Wizards 106, Magic 96
The Washington Wizards got their first standing ovation of the season last night -- and that was before guard Larry Hughes gave an announced crowd of 15,042 at MCI Center good reason to go crazy. With the Wizards holding a six-point lead against the Orlando Magic, the fans rose as guard Gilbert Arenas worked down the clock and found Hughes cutting along the baseline.
Hughes sneaked under the rim, the ball found him and Hughes knew exactly what to do with it.
He elevated for a layup, drew a foul from center Tony Battie and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play with 1 minute 6 seconds left and help secure a 106-96 victory. "I know I can make plays late in games," Hughes said.
The Wizards needed to make plays after they watched a 15-point third-quarter lead evaporate following 19 consecutive points by the Magic. But using solid fourth-quarter performances from Hughes, forward Antawn Jamison (26 points, 11 rebounds) and center Brendan Haywood, the Wizards improved to 3-2.
"Sometimes you can't explain what's going on out there," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We're just tinkering on disaster and we're always walking the fine line from turning the thing over or making a great play."
Haywood fouled out in his second game back from a three-game suspension, but he scored 13 points with five rebounds and made a huge jump hook in the lane late in the game.
"There's some negative and some positive you can take from this game," Jamison said after recording his second double-double of the season and 101st of his career. "The negative is when you're up like that, you have to find a way to bury a team, but also we showed great composure, finding a way to play it out and get a win. We are improving as a team. We definitely took a step forward after the last couple of games."
The night before in Miami, Hughes tweaked his left ankle landing on Shaquille O'Neal's foot in the first quarter and wasn't into it the rest of the game, shooting 3 of 15 for just seven points.
Hughes was determined to be more aggressive against the Magic and he made several hard drives. He shot 8 for 18 and made 10 of 11 free throws. "I'm just trying to get to midseason form a little early," Hughes said with a grin. "That's basically what I'm trying to do."
The Wizards ended a two-game losing skid and a four-game losing streak against the Magic. The Wizards were the only team to lose four games last season against the Magic, which had only 21 wins, and they had no answer for Tracy McGrady, who torched them for a career-high 62 points in the teams' last meeting on March 10.
But McGrady was dealt to Houston in a blockbuster trade during the offseason and the Magic is a completely remodeled team, featuring a flashy all-star guard in Steve Francis, a forgotten-about former superstar in Grant Hill and a promising rookie in Dwight Howard.
Francis has been his usual electrifying self, winning the first two games for the Magic on buzzer-beaters. The former Maryland star excited the local fans with a few highlights -- including a ridiculous layup in which he bumped into Haywood, turned his back to the basket and flipped the ball over his head. Francis finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.
Hill had been limited to 47 total games in his first four seasons in Orlando because of injuries, but he is healthier and finished with a season-high 24 points.
The Wizards led 71-56 with 5 minutes 11 seconds left in the third quarter after forward Jarvis Hayes hit a 19-foot jumper. The Magic switched to a zone defense, the first the Wizards had seen this season, and "we panicked," Jamison said.
Hill started the run with a fallaway jumper. Then, Hedo Turkoglu and Pat Garrity took over, combining to hit four three-pointers. With the lead down to 10, Jordan tried to stop the momentum with a timeout, but that appeared only to energize the Magic.
The Magic took a two-point lead when Garrity (16 points) made another three-pointer and it went up 75-71 when Turkoglu (13 points) tipped in his own miss. Hayes ended the Wizards' scoring drought after more than four minutes with a layup.
"Last year, we would've lost this game," said Hayes. "We wouldn't have recovered from it. It shows that we're a little bit more mature."