By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010; D04
Playing their third game in as many nights was demanding enough for the Washington Wizards. That the opponent was reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando made it all the more so, and after an early push, fatigue doomed the Wizards in a 109-95 loss Saturday at Verizon Center.
The Wizards dropped their season-high seventh consecutive game and remain winless in March. Their last victory came Feb. 28 over New Jersey, which has the worst record in the NBA, and is Washington's only win in its past 10 games.
The Wizards (21-43) lost seven in a row last season, when they finished 19-63, dismissed former coach Eddie Jordan after a 1-10 start and went with Ed Tapscott for the final 71 games.
"Unfortunately the games are 48 minutes and not 12," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said, referring to Washington taking a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter. "We played well early. I thought their bench came in the second quarter and changed the whole complexion of the game."
The Magic got 48 points from its reserves, including a combined 34 from Brandon Bass and J.J. Redick, as the team continued its trajectory in the opposite direction of Washington. Orlando (47-20) has won eight in a row, extending its longest such streak this season, and after a shaky beginning against the Wizards looked every bit the team that is aiming to chase down Cleveland as the top seed in the East.
Dwight Howard put the Wizards in a matchup predicament from the outset, as they sent JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Fabricio Oberto at the all-star center to little avail. Howard finished with a team-high 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting and added a game-high 15 rebounds and five assists.
Blatche led Washington with 32 points, including 23 in the first half, and made 14 of 23 shots. Reserve guard Shaun Livingston added 18 points and eight assists, and Al Thornton chipped in15 points.
"We started off strong, excited," Thornton said. "We knew if we didn't bring it tonight, we pretty much were going to get embarrassed. Three games back-to-back-to back is no joke."
The Magic all but sealed the outcome by scoring the first eight points of the second half in growing its lead to 69-55. Howard factored into all of those points, scoring on a hook shot, a dunk and one free throw and assisting on Vince Carter's three-pointer.
Washington cut it to 85-76 late in the third quarter on Thornton's jumper, but Jason Williams swished a three-pointer from the left corner, and Orlando closed it out from there thanks to consecutive three-pointers from Redick (18 points) and another jumper from the former Duke standout to make it 98-80 midway through the final quarter.
"There's no question that we got fatigued," Saunders said. "It's almost like at halftime we came in to rest, and we thought about how long we had been playing. We had no juice to start the second half."
The Wizards looked like the more rested team in the first quarter when they used a 12-0 run for a 33-20 lead. Livingston then made a jumper to begin the second quarter, and Washington had Orlando on its heels.
But the Magic scored 11 of the next 12 points, including a three-point play and an alley-oop dunk by Howard, that trimmed the deficit to 37-31. The Wizards called timeout at that point with 9 minutes 36 seconds to play.
James Singleton made a field goal for Washington, but Orlando went on another 11-2 run and took the lead for good, 42-41, on Mickael Pietrus's three-pointer from the right wing with 7:11 to go before halftime.
In one of the more peculiar circumstances of the regular season, the Wizards had prospered against the Magic, which is pursuing the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA's best record. Washington won the previous two games this season with Orlando, including 92-91 on Feb. 5 when Caron Butler made a baseline jumper with a half-second to play.
Saturday night was an entirely different matter, with the Wizards getting outrebounded 46-30 and McGee getting none defensively. Washington also made just 16 of 39 shots in the second half after shooting 56 percent over the first 24 minutes.
"The last two games he's been very poor," Saunders said of McGee. "You can't have your starting center not get a defensive rebound. You've got no chance really to compete."