By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
ORLANDO, Nov. 6 -- The Washington Wizards got their first up-close look at the revamped Orlando Magic Monday night and came away with their first clue that life in the Southeast Division might not be all about themselves and the Miami Heat anymore.
For the first time since Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady were introduced with much hoopla as free agents in the summer of 2000, there is a genuine sense of optimism in Orlando. On the strength of a strong effort by reserve guard Carlos Arroyo, who scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and a pesky defense that held the Wizards without a field goal in the game's final 4 minutes 11 seconds, the Magic overcame a career-performance by Wizards center Etan Thomas and emerged with a 106-103 victory at TD Waterhouse Centre.
"I thought there were some plays we could have converted at the end, but you have to tip your hat to them," said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan. "Their bench was fantastic and they brought a lot of energy which we expected."
The loss dropped the Wizards to 1-2 and exposed some of the shortcomings that popped up in the season's first two games. Orlando shot well over 50 percent most of the game and the Wizards were unable to cash in on several late opportunities.
After Keith Bogans (DeMatha) made one of two free throws to give the Magic a three point lead with 3.4 seconds remaining, Antonio Daniels inbounded the ball to Gilbert Arenas on the wing and Arenas got a clean look at a potential game-tying three-point attempt, but his shot missed long.
Antawn Jamison (29 points, 10 rebounds) missed a three-pointer that would have given the Wizards a one-point lead with 52.9 seconds remaining and Caron Butler (16 points on 5-of-10 shooting) missed an open 20-footer that would have tied the score with 17.9 seconds left.
"We had our chances, good chances and you have to live with that," Butler said. "It came down to them making shots, executing their offense and us not cashing in on some shots we had."
Arenas finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals but made only 6 of 20 shots and had his hands full defending Arroyo and Jameer Nelson. Coming into the game, Jordan said his three keys to victory were preventing Dwight Howard from dominating in the lane, stopping Nelson from getting loose on pick-and-rolls, and limiting open shooting opportunities for Orlando's role players.
Howard finished with 14 rebounds and five blocks, but was outplayed by Thomas, who continued his strong early season play with 14 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high six blocks in 37 high-energy, physical minutes.
Thomas, who is 16 of 21 from the field on the season, played powerful basketball from the opening tip throughout the fourth quarter. In one sequence, Thomas ripped down an offensive rebound over Howard, exploded off the floor for a putback layup and let out a scream as he ran back on defense.
"I'm a player who plays with emotion and it's fun out there," Thomas said. "I like to show that because you work hard for it. Sometimes that emotion just comes out."
The Wizards weren't so successful at meeting Jordan's other goals. Role players Hedo Turkoglu (18 points) and Keyon Dooling (15 points) had big games and the Magic never wilted when the Wizards used a 12-2 third quarter run to take a 73-68 lead.
Magic Coach Brian Hill was frustrated after watching his team sleepwalk its way through a 95-82 loss at Atlanta Sunday and threatened to bench starters if he didn't see improvement.
The Magic responded by playing with energy and built leads of 12-6 and 52-44 in the first half. The Wizards stayed close by forcing 10 first-half turnovers and converting those miscues into 19 points. Arroyo, however, had his way with the Wizards, using dribble penetration to free himself for open jumpshots or to feed the ball to the wing, where Turkoglu was waiting to make four first-half three-pointers.
The Magic reserves outscored Washington's reserves, 50-16, and the Wizards have lost nine of their last 10 in Orlando.
"We're a team that has everything to prove," Dooling said. "We haven't done anything yet."