ORLANDO — John Wall rested his head on a towel on an equipment bag, his back on the parquet floor, flustered with his performance as he couldn’t hit a shot or draw a foul. JaVale McGee angrily shook his head as he had his usual struggles trying to contend with Orlando Magic all-star center Dwight Howard. And Nick Young spent most of the game saddled on the bench in foul trouble.
Three of the Washington Wizards’ starters were having forgettable outings, but somehow, some way, they were in the middle of a hotly contested game, on the road, in a place where they were dominated quite easily last month. Interim coach Randy Wittman managed to get a better, more sustained effort since replacing Flip Saunders last week, and that was evident for most of the Wizards’ 109-103 loss Wednesday night at Amway Center.
Wittman got unexpected production from his reserves until Young finally caught fire late, and after the defeat, the coach praised his players for their tenacity but felt there was one obstacle they could not overcome: the free throw disparity.
“It’s hard to win a game 39 to nine,” Wittman said, comparing the free throw attempts of the Magic (13-9) with his team’s. “I feel bad for those guys in there because those guys play so hard. Right now, they are not getting the respect; that’ll come. If we keep playing as hard as we play, night in and night out, we’ll eventually get calls.”
Howard scored 23 points and made more free throws (11) than the Wizards attempted. Wall missed 11 of 12 shots, failed to make any trips to the foul line, and was unable to hide his disenchantment during or after the game.
“I’m disgusted at myself,” said Wall, who matched his career-low with two points and didn’t score until making a driving layup with 3 minutes 8 seconds left in the game. “I missed a lot of easy shots. Couldn’t find a rhythm. I just tried to find everybody and push the ball. I was getting frustrated, not making any shots, and helping my team out. I take it personally on myself.”
The Wizards (4-18) remained competitive as Shelvin Mack scored a career-high 12 points, Kevin Seraphin matched his career high with 12 points and Jordan Crawford scored 19 points off the bench. That trio, along with fellow reserve Trevor Booker, scored all the Wizards’ points during a 22-5 first-half run that turned an 11-point deficit into a six-point lead. Seraphin soared for an emphatic putback dunk that put the Wizards ahead, 36-30, and the home fans began to boo the Magic.
“You have to be active, you have no choice,” said Seraphin, who also battled Howard in the low post, blocking one of his layup attempts into the front row. “No intimidation. Before that was like my idol to go against him. I’m not scared of him. I can’t wait to play against him.”
The Magic fended off the Wizards with timely three-pointers, as it hit 13 shots from long distance. Ryan Anderson made six and led his team with 23 points.
Young led the Wizards with 24 points, scoring 20 during a ferocious fourth-quarter rally to trim a 12-point deficit to four points. Young made four three-pointers and a team-leading four free throws.
“It was tough,” Young said. “Refs seen some things we didn’t. It just didn’t go our way.”
Rashard Lewis also had his best of the game of the season, scoring a season-high 20 points, connecting on three three-pointers and grabbing eight rebounds.
“Most definitely pleased with the way guys played. It was a total team effort,” said Lewis, who was furious with the way the Wizards played in their last trip to Orlando, where they had to score the final 10 points just to lose 103-85. “Last time we was here, we laid a egg from the beginning of the game, didn’t play hard at all. We been competing much better as a team the past week or so. We’ve really been playing hard, giving the effort, more than anything, regardless if we make shots, miss shots. Obviously, we had a loss tonight, but I thought we did a lot of positives.”
A three-pointer from Hedo Turkoglu gave the Magic a 99-90 lead with 1:58 remaining, but the Wizards kept going. After Young made a three-pointer from the right corner, Wall stole the ball from Larry Hughes and Trevor Booker tipped in a missed layup by Young to bring the Wizards within 101-97 with 47.7 seconds remaining.
The Wizards tried to force a turnover on the next possession, but instead left Anderson open for a three-pointer. Realizing what was about to happen, Wittman put his hands on his head and clinched his teeth as the ball splashed through the net. Wittman kept his hands on his head until Young buried another three-pointer to again cut the deficit to four.
Turkoglu made one of two free throws, but Wall made an ill-advised sprint downcourt that resulted in a turnover. The Wizards actually made more field goals (42-33), grabbed more rebounds (45-37), handed out more assists (26-18) and nearly matched the Magic with 12 three-pointers. Wittman noted that his team led in every statistical category “except free throws!”
He added, “Gosh darn, we’re playing hard.”