ORLANDO – Trevor Booker lunged so far to block Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson’s shot that his momentum forced him to the Wizards’ bench, where assistant coach Don Newman was nervously awaiting a collision. Newman has been moving around with a brace and crutches after having surgery on his right knee last week, so he simply moved to expose his one good knee while catching Booker’s fall.
“Now he’s got his lawyers after me,” Booker said with a laugh.
“He tried to take me out,” Newman shouted from a few feet away.
The Wizards’ assistants have been taking some hits from the players this season. Ryan Saunders injured his arm when John Wall came crashing into him a win over Brooklyn. And on Friday at Amway Center, Coach Randy Wittman was without assistant Pat Sullivan, who had to stay back in his hotel room to combat the same flu bug that has been biting Trevor Ariza for the past week.
Newman came away relatively unharmed after Booker landed on him, but that hustle play was indicative of the Wizards’ defensive intensity in the second of their 96-86 win. Washington held the Magic to just 35 points, held them to 37 percent shooting and and forced 13 turnovers in the second half, when it finally discovered that they don’t have to be on offensively to emerge victorious.
“This is just another one of those games from an offensive standpoint we didn’t make shots, but defensively, we won the game,” Wittman said. “In that first period, where I thought we lost, our guys got to get over. When we’re not making shots, we lose our energy level. We can still do those things at the defensive end. After that first quarter, we still didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the second half, but we never lost that edge defensively.”
The Wizards (41-38) got off to a slow start for the third straight game but the performance was more the result of missing shots than being lethargic. They missed 18 of 24 shots in the first quarter and trailed 29-17.
Orlando pounded the Wizards on the boards, grabbing 19 of their 42 caroms in the first period. Magic guard Jameer Nelson, the shortest player on the court had five, with several long rebounds landing in his hands as the result of the Wizards missing several long jumpers.
“We wasn’t making shots,” Wall said. “Usually in the past, we get down and don’t play defense on the other end. What we keep preaching and try to tell guys. You’ve got to whole ‘nother half or three quarters to make shots, but your defense will give you a chance.”
Washington also shot just 1 of 8 from three-point range in the first period. It didn’t get much better the rest of the night, as the Wizards missed 17 of their 19 three-point attempts. In their past four games, the Wizards have connected on just 11 of 69 (15-9 percent) from beyond the three-point line.
“Nobody shot well and I think we shot 10 percent from the three-point line,” Bradley Beal said. “We forgot about it. We kept shooting for one, but then we did a great job of forgetting about it and focusing on defense. We didn’t let our offense affect our defensive effort. We stuck with it. That is what won us the game. Hopefully, moving forward, we can shoot a lot better.”
The Wizards were down, 57-53, when Beal made a layup with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter but they score seven unanswered points to take the lead. During the run, the Wizards forced the Magic into committing turnovers on five consecutive possessions. Nelson threw the ball out of bounds, and they got steals, drew offensive foul, coerced Arron Afflalo into traveling and then forced a shot-clock violation.
Nicholson would later give Orlando a 72-67 lead, but the Wizards took control of the game with a 10-1 run in which they forced three turnovers and missed shots. After Beal made two free throws to put Washington ahead, 75-73, it led for the rest of the game.
“That’s what I said about our team all year. When you’re not making shots, you’ve got to do other things to win games,” Wall said. “We’re capable of playing great defense. That’s what we did.”
With the win, the Wizards were able to claim the sixth seed once again because the Charlotte Bobcats lost in Boston. Though unlikely to catch Brooklyn, the Wizards are two games behind the Nets for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We feel like we put ourselves on this destiny of worrying about the seeding,” Wall said. “We let a couple of games go on that west coast trip and we let a couple of games go at home, but the main thing is going and playing these last three games the right way and preparing ourselves for the playoffs and everything thing will fall out the way it’s supposed to.”