By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Dwight Howard scored the first points of the game on a dunk, and that was only a preview of how easy things would be for the Orlando Magic during last night's 122-92 win over the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.
Seemingly every possible scoring opportunity -- dunks, backdoor cuts leading to easy layups, wide-open jump shots -- was available to the Magic, courtesy of a Wizards defense that never made it out of pregame warmups.
"They took it to us," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They were the aggressors, and we just couldn't compete physically. We had some mental breakdowns, and we just didn't play well tonight."
It was Orlando's second comfortable win at Verizon Center this season, a fact that doesn't bode well for the Wizards because, should the current Eastern Conference seedings hold, the third-place Magic (40-23) would face the sixth-place Wizards (29-31) in the first round of the playoffs.
Then again, if the Wizards play many more games like last night's, they won't be in sixth place for long. Seventh-place Philadelphia has won 10 of its last 13 and now trails the Wizards by just 1 1/2 games.
Should the Wizards hold on to sixth place -- and the expected returns of Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas would help the cause -- last night's game provided an idea of what can be expected in a playoff series against the Magic.
With the powerful and agile Howard anchoring the post, Orlando spread the floor with shooters such as Rashard Lewis (17 points), Hedo Turkoglu (12 points) and DeMatha product Keith Bogans (17 points) and made the Wizards choose between single-covering Howard and watching him bull his way to two points or double-teaming him and leaving one of his teammates open.
As it turned out, the Magic did a little bit of everything as Howard finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for his NBA-high 54th double-double while the Magic shot 56.1 percent and made 12 three-pointers.
The Wizards also couldn't contain Orlando's dribble penetration, did not rotate defensively to cover open shooters and too often failed to get back on defense when missed shots or turnovers turned into fast-break opportunities for the Magic.
"They got too many layups and we couldn't convert," said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with a team-high 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
Wizards center Brendan Haywood failed to score and had two rebounds in 18 minutes.
For Orlando, shooting guard Maurice Evans added 17 points, and point guard Jameer Nelson finished with nine points and 10 assists. The Magic held a 17-2 edge in fast-break points and a 56-40 advantage in points in the lane.
The Wizards were coming off an impressive home win over New Orleans on Sunday and had a chance to get back to .500 for the first time since Feb. 6.
"It was a disappointing performance from top to bottom," said guard Antonio Daniels, who had two points and four assists. "Against a division opponent like Orlando, you want to come out and play better."
For Orlando, the crisp performance was especially impressive considering that the team was coming off a 102-87 home win over Toronto on Tuesday night. The Magic has won three straight and six of seven and showed no signs of fatigue against the Wizards.
"We tried to come out with a lot of intensity and play extremely hard from the beginning of the game," Howard said. "I was telling the guys that we have to set the tempo from the beginning. We ran the floor and did a lot of good things."
Wizards Notes: Arenas woke up with no pain after going through his first full practice Tuesday and will practice again today. Arenas said he would not return to game action until his surgically repaired left knee feels "right." . . .
Orlando's early dominance took the crowd out of the game but loud boos did rain down when reserve J.J. Redick, apparently still disliked from his days at Duke, entered the game in the fourth quarter.