By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 28, 2008
When Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld made the decision to fire Eddie Jordan as head coach and replace him with Ed Tapscott on Monday, the organization sent a message to its fan base and players: The current roster, even without injured starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, is good enough to compete on a nightly basis.
That may turn out to be true as the season rolls along, but one thing became very clear last night in front of a flat crowd of 13,295 at Verizon Center: These Wizards are not in the same class as the Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic.
For the second time this season, the Magic cruised to a comfortable win over the Wizards, this time by a score of 105-90. That was a slight improvement from Nov. 8 in Orlando, when the Magic won 106-81.
"They're one of the best teams in the league right now," said Wizards forward Caron Butler, who finished with 25 points and six assists. "They're rolling."
The Wizards (2-11) looked nothing like the inspired outfit that crushed the Golden State Warriors in Tapscott's debut on Tuesday night. Then again, they were facing a much better opponent.
The Magic (12-4) never trailed, built a 22-point edge early in the third quarter took and rode center Dwight Howard's 26 points and 14 rebounds to its sixth straight road victory.
While Butler and Antawn Jamison (17 points, 12 rebounds) were the only Wizards to do any significant offensive damage, four of five Orlando starters scored in double figures.
"They have the best four-around-one formula right now in the league," Tapscott said, referencing the way the Magic plays complements Howard. "If you collapse on Dwight Howard, they've got three-point shooters at three spots and they've got an unusual combination of three-point shooters in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu who are 6-10. They make you pick your poison."
And unlike Golden State, which allowed the Wizards to break out for season highs in several offensive categories Tuesday, Orlando makes a concerted effort to play defense.
The Wizards shot 42.2 percent, got a combined 14 points out of starters JaVale McGee, Dee Brown and DeShawn Stevenson and never managed to string together the kind of run that would have made the Magic sweat.
It didn't even matter that Orlando was playing without guards Jameer Nelson (strained hip flexor) and Keith Bogans (fractured right thumb). Veteran Anthony Johnson manned the point guard position, kept the ball moving and finished with a game-high 12 assists and no turnovers.
The Wizards have high hopes for McGee, the rookie first-round pick who made his fourth start, but he was overwhelmed in his matchup with Howard, who dunked the first time he touched the ball and swatted away McGee's first shot attempt 40 seconds later.
Even worse, McGee picked up two early fouls and his replacement, Andray Blatche, was also plagued by foul trouble. He had to take a seat after picking up two quick first-quarter fouls and eventually fouled out after posting five points and five rebounds in 12 minutes.
"He's just a great player," McGee said of Howard. "Real strong and athletic and he works hard, so of course it's going to be hard to guard him."
Things came so easily for the Magic, Orlando players didn't even bother to hide what sets they were going to run before possessions started.
"It's embarrassing when they're letting you know what play they're running," Jamison said. "They're calling out the plays: 'We're running this.' Loud. I told our guys, 'That's embarrassing for a team to call out what play they're running.' Not even going to hide it. We just have to find a way to play with some pride because it's night in, night out."
Wizards Note: The 2-11 start matches the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets for the worst in franchise history.