It was another close contest near the final moments Sunday night at Amway Center for the Orlando Magic, this time against the Washington Wizards.
And like it’s been for the Magic of late, the Wizards were able to make more plays late in the game, handing Orlando their ninth consecutive loss, 102-100.
Kyle Kuzma scored 27 points and collected a career-high 22 rebounds, and Bradley Beal chipped-in with 20 points (7-22 FGA’s), 7 assists, and 6 rebounds.
Over Orlando’s last five games, the margin of defeat for the Magic has been five points or less. Head Coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game that the team is keeping things in perspective.
“Growth, that’s what I see out of this group - complete growth,” Mosley said during his postgame conference. “They’re understanding time, score, situations. (They) competed on the second night of a back-to-back, similar to the Chicago/Boston scenario earlier this season. They’re just continuing to compete at a high-level against very good basketball teams. We are putting ourselves in position every single night, giving ourselves a chance.”
The Magic struggled on the glass for stretches during this game, with Wendell Cater Jr. missing his second consecutive contest (hamstring) and Mo Bamba proving to be ineffective for most of the night.
“We did a good job in the first half on the glass,” Mosley recalled after the game. “In the second half, they just started crashing the glass. (Playing) as a small unit, Gafford hurt us on on the glass a little bit. Kuzma hurt us on the glass, I just really think that...obviously, Kuzma ended up with 22 rebounds. That’s the game right there.”
It wasn’t a great start for the home team as the Magic missed six of their first seven shot attempts and the Wizards took an 11-3 lead. Following a very early Mosely timeout, Orlando cut into the double-digit deficit by scoring nine of the next eleven points scored in the contest.
In fact, the Magic outscored the Wizards 23-7 over the final seven minutes of the game’s opening quarter. The first quarter saw the Wizards score just three points over the final 4:53 of the period.
Chuma Okeke, who started the game in place of Carter Jr., enjoyed arguably his best quarter of the season in the first. The second-year forward scored 8 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, playing the entire opening period. The highlight of the first quarter came from Okeke, who put a nifty up-and-under move on Daniel Gafford in the painted area.
The Magic were able to maintain their first half lead thanks to play from their two veteran wings, Gary Harris and Terrence Ross. Harris knocked down three three-point field goals in the first half Sunday, two of those coming in the second quarter. Ross kept his strong play going against the Wizards, scoring 10 points off the bench in the first half - including a steal and layup in transition to close the second quarter.
The Wizards played rather sloppily in the first half of Sunday’s contest, committing 10 turnovers over the game’s first two quarters. While both teams were rather cold to open the game Sunday (Washington: 35% FG%, Orlando: 36% FG%), the Magic were able to hold a slim three-point field goal advantage over the Wizards (Orlando shot 6 for 15 on 3PTA’s, Washington 4 for 14 on 3PTA’s).
The Wizards reclaimed the lead following a three-point field goal from the right wing by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Washington came out of halftime scoring 14 of the first 20 points in the second half.
The proverbial Ross torch began to light in the third quarter. Orlando’s sixth-man scored 16 of his 32 in the period (in seven minutes), including 14 consecutive points for the Magic to help them reclaim the lead.
“Terrence is special, he’s special,” Mosley said. “He’s an elite, elite, elite scorer. He’s been great for this group, he’s been great for these guys. Just constantly communicating, and guys know when to find him. I thought it was a beauty to watch him go (tonight).”
In fact, stretching across the third and fourth quarters, Ross scored 20 consecutive points for Orlando, which tied a franchise record that was set by Tracy McGrady in 2003. Sunday was the second time in Orlando’s last five games that Ross has eclipsed the 30-point mark.
“Just staying ready,” Ross said after the game, when asked about his performance Sunday. “Just reading what the defense was giving me. I kind of got into my groove early, so I just felt good.”
But the Wizards, who had struggled shooting the basketball for most of the night, collectively caught fire in the fourth quarter, with perimeter jumpers coming from Beal, Bertans, Caldwell-Pope, and Kuzma.
Down two points late, the Magic were able to get the ball out of Beal’s hands after an aggressive trap in the backcourt, and sent Kuzma to the line for two free throws. With 12.4 seconds remaining in the contest, Kuzma made just one of two free throws, leaving the door open for the Magic to tie the game with a three-point field goal.
With the perimeter heavily defended, Franz Wagner opted to take the ball to the basket, converting an uncontested dunk to draw Orlando within one point.
This time, Beal was fouled by the Magic - who also made just one of two free throw attempts. But Orlando was out of timeouts and unable to advance the basketball.
Needing to go the length of the court in under seven seconds, the Magic were unable to get a clean shot attempt off to tie (or possibly win) the game. A desperation attempt by Harris from the corner was blocked, and an Okeke put-back attempt off the ricochet was also blocked as the horn sounded.
The rookie Wagner finished with 16 points (6-13 FGA’s, 4-4 FTA’s) and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes. Cole Anthony, who continues to battle a bothersome ankle sprain, had a forgettable 4 for 17 night from the floor (12 points in 36 minutes).
“I think we’re making a bigger emphasis on the last five minutes of the game,” Ross told reporters Sunday. “That’s usually what it comes down to in every game. I think we’re just doing a better job understanding time, score, situation. The outcomes haven’t been what we like, but we ‘re sticking with it. We’re learning, we’re growing and making improvements. We’re going to get over this hump eventually.”
They have another chance to get over that previously mentioned ‘hump’ Wednesday night in our nation’s capital against these same Washington Wizards, tipoff is set for 7:00PM EST.