Kim Klement/USA TODAY
There were really two points in this game in which the Magic could have put a vice grip on this game and walked off to the Black Tie and Tennies Gala tomorrow night and onto their West Coast trip with their 20th win, matching last season's total.
The first came with 48.7 seconds left. Tobias Harris came free in the paint and scored a putback to give the Magic a five-point lead. It was the kind of back-breaking play that usually assures a win. Especially if a young team is brimming with confidence on their home floor. You just could not make any silly mistakes.
Silly mistake one came when Arron Afflalo fouled John Wall on a 3-pointer, allowing him to get two points back.
Silly mistake two came as John Wall got free following a Victor Oladipo missed shot at the rim and drained a 3-pointer to tie the game with 10.6 seconds left. Tobias Harris was left watching as Wall flared out following a reset of the offense. Too much space for the All-Star.
Orlando opted to give the ball to Oladipo and let him work. He dribbled at the top of the key for several seconds before clanking a contested pull-up 3-pointer. To overtime the Magic went.
And again, the Magic seemed set to make the little plays to win the game.
The Magic forced a bad pass from Wall after a solid rotation to the corner to defend him. Nelson tipped Wall's long pass to Beal and was off to the races to give the Magic a 3three-point lead with one minute to play. Beal chased him down and blocked the shot, igniting a fast break for Washington. Trevor Ariza came off a screen from Kevin Seraphin to flare to the corner. Wall found him, leaving Tobias Harris in no-man's land, and Ariza drained the three.
The five-point swing gave the Wizards the lead for good and all the momentum to win 105-101 in overtime at Amway Center on Friday night. Disappointingly, the Magic had let another one slip through their fingers.
"It's tough. We got to just close out games," Arron Afflalo said. "That's pretty much it. I thought our defensive effort was good until down the stretch a bit. We've just got to close the game out."
If only things could be done that simply. It is one thing to say it and another thing to do it. Something this young team has had to learn the hard way time and time again this season. Some of it is growing pains, some of it is just frustratingplay that is simply inexcusable for players at an elite level — never should a player foul a three-point shooter.
The Magic played well enough to win most of the night. They fell behind by 15 points in the first quarter and quickly made their way back into the game. It seemed for the most part they could control it and maitain a little bit of a lead too. The Wizards were struggling to hit shots, shooting 40.0 percent for the game.
Washington though had an answer for every run Orlando made. The Magic never quite had a vice grip on things.
The Wizards got to the line 29 times while the Magic got to the line only 10 times. Orlando took 39 of their 97 shots from the paint and 25 3-pointers (making just seven). That leaves 33 shots — about 34 percent — coming from midrange. The Magic were not getting to the line and not getting calls which put them really behind the chains in trying to pull away.
Washington would come up with a run and get those free throws or make those 3-pointers — 10 for 23 on the game — to keep this a game. Eventually the Wizards were the ones making the little plays to secure a victory.
"[The defense] is an improvement, but we feel like we had that game today," Tobias Harris said. "We were up six with one minutes. It's a hard game and we feel that we should be in ehre enjoying that win but we lost the game. It's jsut a tough one because they made some really tough shots but we still need to execute better down the stretch."
That is ultimately the frustration that comes out of this game. Again, the Magic had a chance to win the game and failed to close things out. And again it came in frustrating fashion with those silly plays. It is one thing to miss a shot on an aggresive play — like Oladipo did late in regulation — it is another to commit a foul on a jump shooter or lose concentration for a critically brief second.
Those are the lessons the Magic are still clearly learning.
There were several positives. Many Magic player did not have their best stuff tonight. Tobias Harris led the way with 21 points and Victor Oladipo had 15 points off the bench. Arron Afflalo had 18 points but on 7-for-21 shooting. Jameer Nelson added 13 points and eight assists but missed 11 of 16 shots. Nikola Vucevic had his double-double streak snapped.
Orlando was still in the game and still in the driver's seat for a win.
Only they did not.
"Looking at the stat sheet, I thought most of the guys played within themselves and played prety good defensively. Could have done a little bit of a better job rebounding as a team. Honestly, I was probably the one that played like crap. Just got to take advantage of open opportunities and make shots and put the game away when you have the chance."
On to the next, I guess.