Magic Squander Early Lead in Puzzling Loss to Wizards

The way things started it looked like Brandon Bass might get his playing time after all. The way things ended, it left Magic fans blindsided by an untimely — and uncharacteristic? — loss to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

After Rashard Lewis hit a go-ahead 3-pointer, Caron Butler found some space and hit a jumper over Matt Barnes to give the Wizards a one-point lead with 0.5 seconds left. Lewis could not one up his counterpart as his jumper at the buzzer was no good and Washington handed Orlando just its fifth home loss, snapping a six-game home winning streak and a four-game overall winning streak, 92-91.

The Magic took a 21-point lead in the first quarter after forcing the Wizards into 10 turnovers and getting out on the break. In transition, Washington could not keep up with Orlando and the easy baskets made it seem like the team would not let up and get whatever it wanted against a team that is really struggling.

Orlando was solid in every aspect of the game at this point, taking a 32-13 lead out of the first quarter. Certainly that pace could not keep up and human nature would let the Magic relax as the lead would hover around the 15-20 point mark. That is exactly how the second quarter played out.

But things were not all rosy. The bench really struggled to maintain the same intensity the starters brought in the first quarter. The lead came down uncomfortably to 11 or 12 and Dwight Howard had to leave the game late in the second quarter to avoid picking up his third foul.

It was not Marcin Gortat’s fault, but when he tipped an inbounds pass right to Antawn Jamison for an easy layup, something had to be up. No player off the bench had a positive +/- and with the offense all of a sudden struggling, that was not a good sign for the rest of the night.

Things kept getting worse as the Wizards continued to cut into the lead and overtake the Magic in the third quarter. The lackadaisical defense and listless offense seemed to catch on as Caron Butler and Randy Foye knifed through Orlando’s defense.

Foye had 19 of his 22 points in the third quarter. And Washington scored 39 points in the third quarter after scoring just 35 in the first two quarters. For comparison, Orlando scored just 35 points in the second and third quarter after netting 32 in the first quarter. The team’s shooting percentage dipped below 40 percent as Washington just got more confident and better.

Quite the reversal of fortunes.

There were quite a few troubling statistics to point to in this game. The bench played poorly, scoring 20 points but again not having a net positive result while on the floor. But the defense and rebounding was most concerning. The Wizards worked their way back into the game by outhustling the Magic.

Dwight Howard was a monster on the glass as usual with 20 points and 18 rebounds. But Washington outrebounded Orlando 52-41 including nine offensive rebounds. Every player in the Wizards’ starting five had at least seven rebounds, led by Brendan Haywood’s 10. It was a team effort to control the boards on Washington’s part.

If you are trying to find a silver lining it is definitely there. Howard had a good game offensively as did Vince Carter for the second consecutive game. Carter hit on only five of his 17 shots, but he attacked the basket and got to the foul line 10 times. He scored 21 points to lead Orlando and seems to have the scoring mentality back.

Orlando is not known for forcing turnovers and the fact the team got 20 tonight (remember: 10 in the first quarter) is a good sign that the team can pounce when the opportunity is there.

I am sure Stan Van Gundy will not see this. All he will see is a loss, a blown 21-point lead, poor offensive execution and a team that was completely outhustled. And you cannot blame him for just seeing that.

This was a game that did not need to go down to the wire where Caron Butler (31 points) could have a chance to give his team a win. The 24-18 performance Orlando put on in the fourth quarter after sleepwalking through the middle two quarters is an indication that the Magic could have run over the Wizards. Washington committed six or seven turnovers in the final quarter and did everything it could to let Orlando make a comeback of its own.

Tonight was just a game that got away.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily