Over the years, the Washington Wizards have distanced themselves from the Orlando Magic, one of their neighbors in the Southeast Division. Since 2012, the Wizards have dominated the series at home, but Friday night at Capital One Arena, the teams played as close as copycats.
The Wizards' lightning-quick point guard relentlessly attacked the paint. So did the Magic's floppy-haired striker. Washington trotted out a big man who finished through fouls. Orlando had one of those, too. And when the Wizards scored at will, their foe got to the basket with the same consistency.
It was only late in the fourth quarter when the Wizards finally found separation for a 125-119 win. Washington (24-18) has won 12 of the past 13 meetings against Orlando in Chinatown. But the matchup did not seem one-sided when the Wizards and Magic entered the fourth quarter tied at 98.
"You got 12 minutes to figure it out," Wizards guard John Wall said, revealing the team's mentality after surrendering nearly 100 points through 36 minutes.
Wall made the most of the final quarter, making 4 of 5 shots for nine of his 30 points to go with nine assists. Earlier in the game, the 27-year-old became the youngest player in franchise history to reach 10,000 points. The milestone came on his third bucket of the first quarter, but perhaps the bigger moment was his drive and finish with 55.7 seconds remaining in the game that pushed the Wizards to a seven-point cushion.
Wall's clinching fourth quarter loomed larger with the appropriate context: He had grimaced while walking off the court at halftime after rolling his ankle but played the rest of the game without limitation.
"It wasn't bad, but who knows with John? That guy just tapes it up, goes out there and competes," Coach Scott Brooks said. "It's what makes him a special player. He plays with bumps and bruises that sometimes you got to be the bigger man and sit him down, and we've done that in practice quite a bit. But he's a competitor, and we needed every bit of his effort and energy, defensive toughness and offense and shot-making ability tonight."
Bradley Beal, described as an all-star in absolute terms by Magic Coach Frank Vogel before the game, matched Wall with 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting — and didn't make a three-pointer. The Wizards collected a season-high 74 points in the paint.
"Just being aggressive. Being in attack mode, putting the ball on the floor, making plays, try to force the ref to blow the whistle a little bit," Beal said. "Stay in attack mode."
The only problem: The Magic stayed just as aggressive.
The Wizards again played to the level of a lesser opponent. In a game with 12 lead changes and 13 ties, the Magic (12-31) stood toe-to-toe with the Wizards despite being ravaged by injuries. Orlando has used 16 starting lineups, the second most in the league. Even so, it shot 51.2 percent against the Wizards, who own the NBA's eighth-best defensive rating.
Washington had no answers for Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who scored 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
Although Wizards backup center Ian Mahinmi, who had one of his best games in a Washington uniform, rolled to the rim and made seven of his eight field goal attempts and three of four at the free throw line — "He was great," Beal said — Orlando countered with starter Bismack Biyombo, an energetic big whom the Wizards could not keep off the line (21 points, 13 rebounds and five of six free throws).
"We have to be sharp in our pick-and-roll coverage," Brooks said, highlighting the helpside defense as a sore spot. "And a lot of times we want to put heat on the basketball, and if you don't do it, if you're in a gray area, and they can get anything they want, and that's what happened tonight. And our weak side wasn't in, but our offense was really good tonight. It's like one of those cartoons as a kid: You plug the one hole, and the oil pops out of the next slot. We have to get better. Brooklyn [which visits Saturday night] beat us twice, and they beat us with speed this last game. We got to get better."
The Wizards finally found some distance thanks to their defense, which limited Orlando to two field goals in the final four minutes.
"We just did a great job of taking better shots but also getting back in transition. But even in the end, we gave up four quick layups," Wall said. "We do a better job in transition. They are a team with Payton, [when] we made or missed, he was pushing every time, trying to find guys. We kind of went small and were able to switch everything and did a better job containing the ball."
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