By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 9, 2008
ORLANDO, Nov. 8 -- The night began discouragingly enough on Saturday when point guard Antonio Daniels limped into the Amway Arena, dragging his right leg. It took a bad turn near the end of the first half, when Caron Butler was rolling on the floor, with blood spilling from above his left eye. Then, with the Wizards trailing the Orlando Magic by 25 points midway through the third quarter, co-captain Antawn Jamison sat at the far end of the Wizards' bench, staring blankly at nothing in particular, and didn't bother getting in the huddle as Coach Eddie Jordan addressed the team during a timeout.
Already battered and bruised this season, the Wizards got bloodied and embarrassed, losing, 106-81, in their most miserable performance of what is starting out as a dreadful campaign. After the loss, the Wizards (0-5) are the only winless team in the Eastern Conference and face a steep road ahead.
"Anytime you lose like that, you definitely don't approve of it. But it's extra disappointing when you're in the position we're in, and for us not to come out with the energy and focus that we needed for this game," said Jamison, who scored just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. "It was frustrating. We're 0-5. We need people to play basketball. We're not going to make excuses. I'm definitely not going to make excuses. It's just disappointing to start the season off -- again -- on a slow foot."
The Wizards recovered from an 0-5 start last season, reeling off six consecutive wins afterward and finishing with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference, the prospect of a rapid turnaround seems difficult with Gilbert Arenas out at least another month, center Brendan Haywood likely out for the rest of the season and Daniels day-to-day with a sore right knee.
Daniels, who missed nine games last season after spraining the same knee, said he injured himself while working out last summer in San Antonio. The pain came and went, Daniels said, but it became unbearable during the Wizards' 114-108 loss to the New York Knicks on Friday. It got so bad, he said, that when he drove to catch the team flight later that evening, he had to pull over on the highway to stop. He will have his knee examined on Monday and he wasn't sure if he'll be available when the Wizards host Utah on Wednesday.
But unless Daniels was going to magically grow another foot, he would not have been able to keep the Wizards from avoiding their fate against the Magic. The Wizards had no one inside to contend with Magic all-star center Dwight Howard, who led all scorers with 31 points and had 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. He scored 12 of his points during a game-changing 30-9 run during a 10-minute span between the second and third periods. "I don't want to single him out," forward Andray Blatche said. "He's an all-star, but their whole team played great."
The Wizards tried to lock down the inside from the outside, but the Magic responded by hitting seven three-pointers in the first half. Washington native Keith Bogans hit 3 of 4 from long range in the first half and finished with 13 points.
The Magic led 42-26 when Howard hit a layup with 7:03 left in the second period, but the Wizards cut the deficit to just eight points when reserve guard Nick Young (team-high 20 points) tapped in an alley-oop pass from Juan Dixon, who started in place of Daniels. It was downhill from there. About two minutes later, forward Caron Butler butted heads with Magic guard Mickael Pietrus and dropped to the floor. Butler got up and shouted at referee Steve Javie for not calling a foul earlier, then went to locker room to get treatment.
"I tried to drive to the basket and got contact. It was a no call, obviously. That just left me kind of delusional for a minute," Butler said, before rubbing his forehead. "My head is banging right now."
When Butler returned, resembling a boxer with a bandage above his eye, in the second half, the Wizards were down 19, and the Magic lead kept expanding until Pietrus (18 points) made a running layup to give his team a 76-47 lead with 4:49 left in the period. The technical knockout came shortly thereafter when Butler tried to respond but Howard sent his shot into the third row.
"A loss like that, to me, hurts, getting beat like that," said DeShawn Stevenson, who had 14 points. "We've got to find a way. We've got to find a way soon. If not, we're going to be in a deep hole. I think it's pretty serious now."
Said Butler, "I think our sense of urgency has got to go up. No one is going to feel sorry for us and give us a W. We're going to dig ourselves out of it."