By waiting until the game's final two minutes to play with a sense of urgency, the Washington Wizards provided a dramatic finish against the Orlando Magic last night but ended up losing, 107-104, before 14,954 at MCI Center.
After being down by eight points in the fourth quarter, Rod Strickland's short jump shot off Chris Whitney's missed jumper brought the Wizards to 106-104 with 13.5 seconds left. Magic point guard Darrell Armstrong, who was fouled after Orlando took possession, made 1 of 2 free throws with 12.7 seconds left.
Washington had one final chance to send the game into overtime but Orlando point guard Chucky Atkins partially blocked Whitney's three-point shot from the top of the arc, causing it to fall short by about a foot.
The humbling defeat against a young team with 10 new players had some Washington players regretting their inconsistent effort.
"These are the type of games at the end of the season where you look back and say, 'We should have won that one,' " Wizards forward Juwan Howard said. "We've got to get this thing together right now."
Said Strickland: "It's always frustrating if you lose. No disrespect to that team, but at home, these are the games you're supposed to win."
By playing suspect defense for most of the second half, Washington (1-2) allowed Orlando to take a 99-92 lead on Armstrong's baseline dunk with 1 minute 26 seconds left in the game. From there, Howard, Whitney and Strickland brought the Wizards back but the Magic made 5 of 8 foul shots down the stretch.
Orlando backup center John Amaechi, who played in England last season, scored 12 of his career-high 14 points in the fourth quarter. He hit several jump shots near the foul line, where Washington's defenders got caught out of position.
Magic backup forward Matt Harpring scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and Armstrong scored eight of his team-high 20 points in the final period in helping Orlando even its record at 2-2.
"Tonight we rode John Amaechi and then Matt Harpring," Magic Coach Doc Rivers said. "They gave us a big lift at the end."
Howard scored 22 points to lead Washington. Strickland had 18 points, 13 assists and 9 rebounds. Whitney scored 17 points and knocked down a career-high five three-pointers.
Wizards guard Mitch Richmond struggled for the second time at home, scoring just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. He made 3 of 13 shots in Washington's season-opening victory over Atlanta.
"I've just got to keep confident that I'll bounce back from this," Richmond said.
The Wizards got themselves into trouble late in the first quarter by getting caught up in a run-and-gun game with the Magic.
Washington opened the game scoring easily by running its offense to perfection, using a 17-4 run to take an 18-8 lead. Then things fell apart. Any shots Washington took in the lane were rejected by forward Bo Outlaw, who registered four of his five blocks in the first quarter.
From there Orlando was off to the races, scoring in transition with ease. Washington tried to play the same type of game and ended up taking bad shots and turning over the ball. Orlando outscored Washington 27-6 on fast-break points--16-1 in the first half, when the Magic pulled to 42-41 at halftime.
The Wizards also were careless with the ball. Washington committed 22 turnovers, which the Magic turned into 23 points.
"We played up-tempo in the first quarter, then we started trading baskets and doing things we don't normally do," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said.
Washington tried to slow the tempo in the second half, but the Magic seemed to be one step ahead of the Wizards' rotating defense.
Wizards center Ike Austin struggled against his former team, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds. He was pulled out of the game for good with 4:51 left.
"We just didn't play well," Strickland said. "We're still trying to get in sync. We might be a little bit impatient."