ORLANDO — The Washington Wizards knew that taking care of the fiery yet inexperienced Orlando Magic would require both hustle and the wisdom of a more veteran team. Washington had to play hard and smart, tending to details while bringing consistent energy that has been hard to come by during its recent rocky stretch.
But there was Orlando’s Cole Anthony, streaking past Delon Wright through a wide-open chunk of the paint as Wright’s teammates stood scattered across the perimeter, looking to one another for answers. There was another rebound, this one by Markelle Fultz, who found Wendell Carter Jr. late in the fourth quarter for yet another three-pointer against the Wizards’ slow perimeter defense.
And there was the Wizards’ sixth loss in seven games, this one a 122-112 setback Tuesday night to the Eastern Conference’s 13th-place team.
As Washington (32-40) sits in 12th, two spots outside of next month’s play-in tournament, its season continues to spiral. The Wizards have lost three in a row, are 3-8 in March and played Tuesday without Kyle Kuzma, who sprained his right ankle by stepping on the foot of a fan early in Saturday’s home loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Bradley Beal acknowledged two truths after Tuesday’s game: The Wizards must “be better,” he said, and they are running out of time.
“We know that. It’s not rocket science. It’s not a secret,” he said. “We got — 10 left? We’ve got to push the last 10.”
The Denver Nuggets visit Capital One Arena on Wednesday.
Even with probable rookie of the year Paolo Banchero (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists), the increasingly solid Fultz (17 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Franz Wagner (20 points) leading the way, Orlando is the sort of opponent that should have yielded a bounce-back win for Washington. But from the start, the Wizards merely matched the Magic’s energy rather than controlling the game.
Neither team played much defense, but the Wizards were more porous on the perimeter. Their six first-quarter turnovers gave the Magic a one-point edge and a baseline of confidence for the rest of the game. Their three-point defense only made things worse; Orlando started 0 for 6 from beyond the arc but was 10 for 19 in the second and third quarters, each shot cooling off Washington every time it got hot.
“We’re playing to other teams’ games,” Corey Kispert said of similarities among the recent losses. “Cleveland [played more physically than] us — that’s what they do. Tried to go toe-to-toe with [Sacramento] in pace; you’re not going to win that game. And when you try to beat teams that are really, really good at their own games, that doesn’t work out too well. The Magic played really well together, got to their spots, took advantage of mismatches. And we’re trying to find the right formula.”
Said Coach Wes Unseld Jr.: “Just some of the detail stuff. It’s a 50-50 ball here; there’s coverage confusion that leads to a three. Our margin of error tonight was really thin. Obviously no Kuz; Brad had a tough night, fouled out. So those little plays, they become magnified.”
Gary Harris led seven Orlando scorers in double figures with 22 points. The Magic (30-43) outrebounded Washington 42-33 and shot 53.8 percent.
Kristaps Porzingis paced the Wizards with 30 points. He added six rebounds and three assists.
The Magic took the lead with 9:54 left to play on a Wagner layup and never trailed again. Carter’s three-pointer with 3:21 to play put Orlando up seven and put the game out of reach.
“Not ideal, obviously. We’re fighting,” Porzingis said. “... But we have to figure out a way. I want to win games, and I’m sure everyone here wants to do it. It’s just a matter of us staying together as a group and figuring it out.”
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
Kuzma’s sprain is ‘significant’
Kuzma’s right ankle sprain was apparently so severe that Unseld expressed surprise Tuesday that he was able to continue playing Saturday. He scored 33 points in 32 minutes against the Kings while playing with a limp.
“He’ll be reevaluated as he progresses — hopefully sooner rather than later,” Unseld said when asked whether Kuzma is considered day-to-day. “But it was a pretty significant sprain.”
Beal in foul trouble
Beal’s time on the court was limited as he fell into foul trouble — a rare occurrence for the guard — by committing his fifth with 6:15 remaining in the third quarter. He managed 16 points (despite shooting 4 for 15), seven assists and five rebounds in 31 minutes before fouling out.
Deni Avdija had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and shot 5 for 6 from the field in one of his more efficient offensive games of late, a lonely highlight during an otherwise unproductive night from the bench unit.