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Focusing on the Present, Wizards End Up With a Gift

Andray Blatche, right, fouls Magic center Dwight Howard (three points in 31 minutes).
Andray Blatche, right, fouls Magic center Dwight Howard (three points in 31 minutes). (By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

ORLANDO, March 19 -- The prospect of facing the Orlando Magic in a first-round playoff series was not a motivating factor for the Washington Wizards when the teams met at Amway Arena on Wednesday night, according to Coach Eddie Jordan.

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"We want to play well because of tonight's game, not because of what could happen in another four weeks or whatever," Jordan said before the game.

Just in case the teams do wind up meeting in April, the Wizards sent a message with a gutty, if not always pretty, 87-86 victory that wasn't complete until Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu drove and missed a potential game-winning shot with less than two seconds to play. Turkoglu scored a career-high 39 points.

The Wizards (34-33) improved to 1-2 against the Magic this season and remained alone in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the surging Philadelphia 76ers, who beat Denver on Wednesday night and have won 10 of their past 11.

The Wizards and Magic will meet again April 16 at Amway Arena in the final game of the regular season. Despite the loss, Orlando (45-25) remains solidly in third place in the East.

"We can't say too much right now because they are a great team," said Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson, who spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Magic and still owns a home in Orlando. "I don't want to add any fuel to their fire, but we just had to go out there and play. They beat us by 30 in our arena and we barely snuck in a win tonight. We'll just have to see what happens."

Antawn Jamison (31 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Wizards, who trailed 43-36 at halftime but retook the lead by outscoring Orlando 31-22 in the third quarter. Washington held Magic all-star center Dwight Howard to a total of three points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Orlando shot 33.8 percent from the field and besides Turkoglu, who connected on seven three-pointers, no Magic players got into a groove.

"Thank God Turkoglu was having the night he was or that game would've been a blowout," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Jamison gave the Wizards an 83-78 lead when he completed a three-point play by making a free throw after drawing a goaltending call on Howard with just less than three minutes to play. Turkoglu later tied the game at 85 by making 1 of 2 free throws.

Wizards forward Caron Butler (11 points, nine rebounds) answered by making a pull-up jumper over Turkoglu with 41 seconds to play. Turkoglu drove right and drew a foul on Brendan Haywood and again made 1 of 2 at the line, cutting Washington's lead to 87-86 with 33 seconds left.

On the next possession, Butler drove around Turkoglu from the top of the key and appeared ready to dunk the basketball, but Howard shuffled over and swatted the ball away for his only block of the game.

Orlando called a timeout and set up at midcourt. Rashard Lewis, who was held to seven points on 2-of-13 shooting, safely inbounded the ball to Turkoglu. He was pressured by Butler, who reached in and poked the ball out of play with 4.2 seconds remaining.

The Magic again got the ball to Turkoglu on the game's deciding play. He drove left but was met by Butler and Haywood and attempted a scoop shot with his right hand that missed. Stevenson blocked out Howard and Butler grabbed the rebound before dribbling the clock out.

"We can definitely see them in the first round," said Haywood, who defended Howard much of the game and contributed 10 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. "This isn't like we are saying we are going to beat them or anything but at the same time, this is like a statement to them that we are not going to be pushovers. After D.C., they probably thought they could do anything they wanted to do to us."

Haywood was referring to Orlando's 122-92 win at Verizon Center on March 5. Orlando also ruined Washington's home opener with a comfortable 94-82 win on Nov. 3.

On Wednesday night, the key to the Wizards' third-period push was better ball movement and improved shot selection. It didn't hurt that Jordan openly challenged his two all-stars at halftime.

"Coach came in and ripped into myself and Caron for really being outplayed by their forwards," Jamison said. "So we just wanted to come out in the second half and have a better showing and we didn't waste any time. We had a nice pep in our step and that got us going."


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