If you want a symbol for the kind of night it was for the Magic on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the play that probably put the dagger in the Magic’s hopes for the win probably does it best.
The Magic trailed by five with about 90 seconds to play. Orlando, was playing desperate for points (as they had for most of the game) and Jameer Nelson pushed the pace a bit and found Jason Richardson on the wing open for three.
This was far from Jason Richardson’s best shooting game. It was not the 7-for-10 effort he had in Monday’s win over the Pistons. It definitely was not that. Richardson missed his 12th shot of the game and his fifth of seven 3-point attempts. The shot was open, he could have missed 20 shots on this night and it is still a look you want Richardson to feel he has the green light to take.
The shot was rushed, the sign of a team both tired and desperate to get some points, perhaps frustrated by a game where the offense simply would not work.
The Wizards came down the other end of the floor. John Wall did what he does and got in the lane. The defense, as it had all game, sunk in to the paint to stop the dribble penetration. It left Jordan Crawford wide open for three in the corner. The Wizards may have been just 3 for 15 from long range, but that final 3-pointer would prove to be the killer.
Crawford drained it to give Washington an 8-point lead. James Singleton put the exclamation point on an alley oop from John Wall as the defense was caught flat footed.
The Wizards were scrappy, aggressive and hungry for a win. The Magic’s effort was there in a 93-85 loss at Verizon Center on Tuesday, but the energy and execution was not. Everyone admitted they were tired and, inevitably, a loss is what followed.
Orlando shot just 36.6 percent from the floor and 11 for 35 from beyond the arc. The team attempted only 10 free throws for the game. Those statistics alone should paint a picture of where the Magic’s offense went wrong.
They simply could not get into the paint. The ball movement and scoring that pushed Orlando out to a 13-point first quarter lead and 29 points at the end of the quarter. Stan Van Gundy said even then though that he knew his team did not have the energy to continue.
Orlando kept the ball moving pretty well in the second quarter and got some good looks, but the ball simply would not fall in the basket. The Magic did not help themselves by getting the ball stuck on one side of the floor and over dribbling. There were as many forced shots early in the second quarter that allowed Washington to climb back in and take the lead.
While the Magic were bricking shots, the Wizards were getting the ball in the paint. Whether it was John Wall (15 points, 7 assists) getting there through the fast break or it was Kevin Seraphin (24 points, 13 rebounds) getting post ups against a tired Glen Davis. Both those players found ways to abuse Orlando’s interior defense. Perhaps too much of a focus on stopping Wall’s dribble penetration led to Serpahin and Singleton getting better looks. The Magic were clearly slow rotating off the pick and roll and that left plenty of openings for a team willing to attack.
Washington had its moments of being a team at the bottom of the league. That enabled Orlando to stay in the game. the Wizards never took a lead bigger than five points until late in the fourth quarter.
The Magic had four players in double figures, but played only nine players. Jameer Nelson was game with 19 points (on 8-for-19 shooting) and seven assists. J.J. Redick scored 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter. Quentin Richardson came off the bench for 14 points, scoring eight of Orlando’s 12 second-quarter points.
Ish Smith was an extreme bright spot with eight points, five rebounds and three asissts in 15 minutes. He may be getting an even closer look as the backup point guard in the future. He brought a lot of energy and pressure defensively and was aggressively probing the defense with his lightning-fast ball handling. If a few other players were able to bring his energy, the Magic probably would have won.
With more energy and more aggression to the basket, even if it was a bad shooting night, the Magic had the tools to get this win. It feels like one that was left on the board even though the effort and desire to win was on the floor. That extra gear just wasn’t.
The question the Magic might have to ask is why the team was so tired? This was the first back to back the team has faced in a few weeks. Several players were playing heavy minutes and having a difficult night without Dwight Howard might have finally weighed on this team.
Howard should be back Friday. Hopefully, with two days off, the Magic’s energy will be too for the final eight games.