In the closing stretch of a season in which the Washington Wizards are seeking to avoid the lowest winning percentage in franchise history, there are no asterisks attached to victories.
The Wizards welcome them in any way they can get them.
And Tuesday night’s 93-85 triumph over Orlando before 15,355 at Verizon Center served as Exhibit A.
Just because the Magic’s Dwight Howard, arguably the best center in the NBA, was inactive with back spasms didn’t diminish the result in the minds of Wizards players or Coach Randy Wittman.
Washington was able to soak in consecutive wins for just the second time.
Washington also ended a nine-game losing streak to Orlando, which is vying for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Wizards had lost three in a row to their Southeast Division rival this season.
“Obviously they missed a huge part of their team,” Wittman said, “but this was a good win for us.”
With no true shot-blocker to safeguard the rim, Orlando was at times helpless to stop Wizards center Kevin Seraphin.
Seraphin had career highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds and matched a career best with four blocks. Seraphin was the catalyst for Washington holding a 46-34 margin in points in the paint.
In overcoming a 13-point first-quarter deficit, guard Jordan Crawford got deep in the lane repeatedly for layups that contributed significantly to his 21 points. Point guard John Wall added 15 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Throw in 12 points each from reserves Cartier Martin and James Singleton, and the Wizards (14-44) need just one more win to ensure this team won’t suffer the ignominy of an historically awful season.
With the game in the balance in the fourth quarter, Wittman left Martin and Singleton on the court along with Wall, Crawford and Seraphin. And that combination took over with 8 minutes 20 seconds left and the score tied at 69.
Martin connected on a three-pointer 51 seconds later to put the Wizards ahead for good, and Singleton sank a 17-footer with 6:39 to play that had Orlando scrambling, 74-69. The Magic got within 80-77 on a three-pointer by guard Jameer Nelson (team-high 19 points). But Singleton converted two foul shots and Wall’s finger roll made it 84-77 with just under four minutes to go.
Orlando (34-24) did not get closer than five points the rest of the way.
“We just kept fighting,” Wall said. “Kevin had a big game for us, and a lot of our role guys and came in and played big minutes.”
Neither team gained much of an advantage in the third quarter, when the Magic’s largest margin was three points and the Wizards’ was five. The Magic went up 50-47 before Washington reeled off six consecutive points and followed that with another burst to move in front, 60-55.
Crawford was the difference for the Wizards in the period, scoring 10 points, including four straight field goals. During one flurry, Crawford either scored or assisted on 12 straight points.
In the early going, the Wizards averted what had the makings of another lopsided loss by erasing a 29-16 deficit. Orlando had crafted that margin on the strength of three-point shooting in the first quarter, at one point scoring nine of its 11 points from beyond the arc.
But Washington got the final basket of the quarter and began the second period with a 9-3 flourish that included eight points combined from Seraphin and Martin. By the time backup point guard Shelvin Mack made 1 of 2 foul shots, the Wizards had drawn to 32-27.
The Magic separated again with five consecutive points from reserve forward Quentin Richardson before Washington scored 14 of the next 16 points. The highlight during that stretch was a one-handed windmill dunk from Seraphin off a nifty pass from Crawford.
Seraphin scored again and Wall made two foul shots and completed a three-point play for a 41-39 lead with 33 seconds left until halftime.
“As long as players keep playing with confidence, we can do a lot of things,” Crawford said. “The difference tonight was confidence and getting important stops.”