By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 12:53 AM
ORLANDO - On their final game before the all-star break, the Washington Wizards returned to the place where the John Wall era began, in the arena they helped open with a humiliating, nationally televised defeat that stands as the most lopsided debut loss for a No. 1 overall pick in NBA history. That defeat in late October didn't exactly leave Coach Flip Saunders encouraged about what the future held for his team.
"Based on that, I didn't think we'd win a game," Saunders joked on Wednesday.
The Wizards haven't lost every game - although they needed 26 games to finally break through away from Verizon Center. They arrived at Amway Center on Wednesday a much different team since their inauspicious opener. But with limited options offensively, and no one capable of providing any resistance to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the Wizards lost, 101-76.
Rashard Lewis, a focal point of the Wizards' biggest change from opening night - the Dec. 18 trade that shipped the former face of the franchise, Gilbert Arenas, to the Magic - was forced to miss his return to Orlando with a right knee injury that sidelined him for the past three games. The Wizards were also without leading scorer Nick Young, who sat out with a bruised left knee suffered in the previous victory in Cleveland. It didn't help that center JaVale McGee arrived with a sore left back.
"We're hurt," Saunders said after his squad fell to 1-26 on the road this season. "We had a lot of guys who were hurt, so it was tough to judge. It was one of those things, the harder we tried, the harder we fell. It was like being in quicksand."
Wall came out determined to make amends for his last outing in Orlando, as he repeatedly sliced through the Magic defense and finished the game with 27 points and five rebounds. But he also had just one assist, mostly because the Wizards (15-39) shot 34.9 percent, with Josh Howard and Cartier Martin, who started in place of Young, combining to go 3 for 23 from the floor and scoring just eight points.
Scoring "is not my mind-set," Wall said, "but if I get open shots, I have to take them and I have the confidence to make them, that's what I was doing. When they doubled, I was looking for my teammates, but we had a tough night making shots."
The Magic paused to recognize Lewis for his contributions by playing a video of some his best moments in more then three years with the organization. Afterward the cameraman focused on Lewis in his sport coat and Magic fans gave him a rousing ovation.
"I was a little nervous about what kind of reception I was going to get, playing here the past three years. I've seen Grant Hill come back, Tracy McGrady come back, some of the former guys come back that they boo, so I'm like, 'I hope they don't boo me.' It was good to see them cheer for me," Lewis said. "I know I need to rest my knee, but I wanted to be out there. I know that court. Spots on the floor. I felt we could've won that game if me and Nick played."
But even with Lewis and Young, the Wizards likely would've struggled against the Magic, which recorded a season sweep. Orlando was was tested once in the teams' four meetings, when Arenas scored a season-high 31 points in a 100-99 Magic win on Nov. 27 that required a Howard putback in the closing seconds. The other three games were decided by no less than 18 points.
Dwight Howard again proved to be too much for the Wizards to handle, as he scored 32 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots - in just three quarters - as the Magic improved to 20-12 since making the deal for Arenas and a separate trade with Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. Arenas finished with just two points but handed out a game-high six assists.
Though short-handed, the Wizards took an early lead behind Wall. He scored the first two baskets on driving layups, forcing Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy to call a timeout. Wall scored 13 points in the first period, with the Wizards leading 18-17. Kirk Hinrich came off the bench to score 10 points in the second period, converting a three-point play to give the Wizards a 32-28 lead with 6 minutes 31 seconds remaining in the half.
The Magic would go on to outscore the Wizards 50-20 over a nearly 17-minute stretch from the second period to the end of the third period. Richardson made a jumper to put the Magic ahead 78-52 and the players on both teams could get ready for their vacations.
Saunders admitted this season has been challenging but tried to focus on the positives, such as the improvement of Young in his fourth season, and the development of Wall and fellow rookie Trevor Booker.
"We knew coming in what we were. I don't know if we're a lot different than where we maybe anticipated. Did I think it would take until the game [in Cleveland] before we won our first road game? No," Saunders said, adding that owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld have been supportive.
"I think it's tough on everybody," he said. "I give our players credit. Even after losses or whatever. They've been very resilient, as far as their ability to come in and work hard. . . . As Ted said, we set a game plan of what we needed to do, how we were going about doing it. Would we like to have more wins? Yeah. You always do."