Magic 91, Wizards 83
-- It was during a timeout late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's game against the Orlando Magic that the TD Waterhouse Centre sound system blasted out the classic "Charlie Brown" with the lyrics: "Why's everybody always pickin' on me?"
That's how the Washington Wizards had to feel after dropping their fifth consecutive game, 91-83 to the Magic in front of 13,104.
The Wizards, now 5-6 after a 5-1 start, faced an Orlando team that was playing without its leading scorer (Steve Francis) and coming off a loss to the struggling New Orleans Hornets and yet, for most of the game, it was the Magic, not the Wizards, which played like it is carrying the weight of playoff expectations.
The Wizards posted a season-low 13 first-quarter points, a season-low 31 first-half points and sabotaged themselves whenever the Magic opened the door for them to take control of the game in the second half.
The Wizards shot 39.2 percent from the floor, 25 percent from three-point range and wasted a 25-point, 16-rebound effort by forward Antawn Jamison.
When Washington desperately needed to get one defensive stop -- after Jamison's three-pointer cut the Orlando lead to 87-83 with 50 seconds remaining -- Magic guard Jameer Nelson blew past Gilbert Arenas, met no resistance on his way to the rim and converted a layup to put the game away.
"When you're in a slump like we are, everything goes wrong," said Arenas, who had a rough shooting night, hitting 6 of 19 shots and finishing with 19 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers. "One second left on the shot clock, two people sticking a guy, he throws up a shot and it goes in. We've been having stuff like that happen this whole losing trip."
The five-game losing streak is Washington's longest since the team lost five straight early last April and things won't get any easier Friday night when the Wizards visit the Detroit Pistons.
Washington has lost 12 straight to the Pistons and hasn't won in Detroit since December 2002. The Pistons improved to a league-best 9-1 with a victory over the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night.
To even have a chance at beating the Pistons, the Wizards will have to play better team defense than they did Wednesday night. Three Orlando players -- Nelson, guard Hedo Turkoglu and center Tony Battie -- posted season highs and the Magic shot 47.4 percent while making 6 of 10 three-point attempts.
As has been the case throughout the losing skid, the Wizards broke down in crucial situations when it appeared they were ready to make a move. Near the end of the third quarter, after a pretty reverse layup by Arenas cut the Orlando lead to 62-56, Arenas and Antonio Daniels failed to properly switch on a high screen and left Nelson wide open on the wing.
Nelson made a three-pointer and then, after a Jamison layup, hit another -- this time over Arenas from the top of the key -- giving Orlando a 68-58 lead at the end of the quarter.
Later, with the Wizards trailing 85-76 with 2:45 remaining in the game, Turkoglu missed a layup but Orlando beat the Wizards to the offensive rebound -- another area that has consistently hurt Washington so far this season -- and Nelson eventually made a driving layup.
"Our team is trying nine different things, different schemes, different combinations and it just hasn't come together for us right now," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "But the season is young, and we've seen stranger things happen in the NBA over the course of a season. As long as we continue to work, we've got good character guys and enough talent in that locker room to get out of it."
One thing is certain, however: Opponents aren't going to sit around and wait for the Wizards to figure things out. For the second straight night, Jordan's reconfigured starting lineup of Arenas, Jamison, Jarvis Hayes, Jared Jeffries and Brendan Haywood got off to a slow start.
Washington did get a nice boost off the bench from guard Chucky Atkins, who scored six points in 13 first-half minutes, but Caron Butler was 0 for 5 and finished with two points while not looking as part of the offense for large portions of his 20 minutes on the floor.
Following Tuesday night's 108-105 home loss to Denver, Butler talked about the reception the Wizards would receive on this road trip, which ends in Charlotte Saturday night.
"It was just like when Seattle came in here to play us," Butler said of the Wizards' 137-96 rout of the then-slumping Seattle SuperSonics at MCI Center on Nov. 11. "It was: 'Let's give them no hope. It's not happening here.' Teams are not going to just let us get a win against them because we've been struggling. We have to come in there and lay it all out there."