By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009
As Wizards fans contemplate the certainty of landing a high pick in the June 25 NBA draft, it's worth noting how the Orlando Magic built the championship-caliber team that beat Washington, 112-103, at Verizon Center last night.
First, the Magic were lucky enough to have the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, when center and franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard was available. Then, General Manager Otis Smith wisely went about the task of surrounding Howard with a supporting cast capable of beating the injury-ravaged Wizards even on a night when forward Hedo Turkoglu was out of action with a foot injury.
It is a balanced team that has good chemistry and is well coached by Stan Van Gundy. The Wizards, who dropped to 15-51 overall and 0-14 against the Southeast Division, can only hope to be like that in coming seasons.
While Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld contemplates his next series of moves, his team continued the process of helping its lottery chances with yet another loss.
They put up a fight throughout and even drew within a point late in the fourth quarter, but ultimately came up short because the Magic simply played better when it really counted.
After Nick Young drew the Wizards within 102-99 with a jumper at the 2-minute 47-second mark, the next three possessions ended with a missed off-balance jump shot by Javaris Crittenton, a traveling call on Antawn Jamison and a Crittenton turnover that happened on a play where the second-year guard appeared to be fouled.
The Magic (48-17) closed the game on a 13-6 push.
"Two tough possessions that we lost at the end," said Crittenton, who finished with 10 points and seven assists in 29 solid minutes. "That's where we lost. We played well and we fought hard but two tough possessions, some tough calls but, that's a part of basketball."
Jamison led the Wizards with 36 points on 13-of-22 shooting, Nick Young added 20 points off the bench and rookie center JaVale McGee played some solid fourth-quarter defense on Howard to keep it close.
Six Orlando players scored in double figures, including Howard (18 points, 13 rebounds). The Magic connected on 12 of 34 three-point attempts and held a 49-32 rebounding edge.
Wizards forward Caron Butler, who missed two games with a hamstring problem earlier in the month, aggravated the injury in the first half and sat out the second after scoring five points on 1-for-7 shooting. In addition, Andray Blatche rolled his left ankle early in the fourth quarter. He left the game and did not return.
The Wizards will get two more chances at earning divisional wins, March 25 against Charlotte and April 4 against Miami.
No team in NBA history has gone winless in divisional play.
After beating Washington soundly in the first three meetings of the season, the Magic didn't so much pound the Wizards as steadily pull away.
The Orlando lead peaked at 13 on a Mickael Pietrus three-pointer with 5:58 left in the half, but the Wizards fought back and used a 10-2 run that included a Young jump shot, two Young free throws, a pair of Jamison free throws, a Jamison jumper and a layup by Blatche.
The Magic responded again and took a 60-52 lead into halftime. Orlando, which played without its best shooter in Turkoglu, nonetheless shot 50 percent in the half and also finished with a commanding 29-17 rebounding edge.
"I thought we sustained our effort pretty well this evening," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "Our young guys got some good experience against one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. It was a good effort."