By John Denton
March 29, 2013
In another full-blown rebuilding phase with five rookies and three second-year players on this season’s roster, the Magic eclipsed the 18-win total of the first-year expansion team in 1989-90. That first team went 18-64.
The Magic blew a 19-point first-quarter lead in Wednesday’s road loss in Charlotte and squandered Friday’s 16-point lead with a poor start to the second half. But this time the Magic recovered nicely and hung tough down the stretch against the Wizards (26-46).
``They made a run at us, I think it was 16-2, and we respond, we don’t panic. We’ve been in that position before and we’ve lost those games,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``But we made free throws down the stretch, executed and when we didn’t make shots we defended. That gave us a chance to stay in the game. It was just great effort by every guy that stepped on the floor.’’
Harris followed up Wednesday’s dazzling 29-point performance with 30 points. He had a three-point play off a steal of Washington guard John Wall late in the fourth quarter and he steadied the Magic offense with a jumper with 1:22 remaining. He scored eight points in the final period to preserve the win.
``There have been certain times since being in a Magic uniform where we struggled to close out games and tonight was a good step for me,’’ said Harris, who added 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals. ``Not only on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end getting my teammates to communicate and we did a great job of it.’’
Wall, who had a 47-point effort earlier in the week for the Wizards, scored 35 points, but he needed 28 shots to do so. He made just 11 of those shots, but got to the free throw line 14 times with 12 makes.
Beno Udrih had 10 points and nine assists and helped limit the damage that Wall had against the Magic. Wall had just two assists, while turning the ball over four times. ``He only had two assists. If he had (almost) 40 (points) and only has two assists that means he’s not finding his teammates,’’ Udrih said. ``We definitely had to play good defense against him.’’
Harkless added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Magic. E’Twaun Moore had 15 points off the bench, while Andrew Nicholson scored 14 points in his first game back following an ankle injury.
The Magic left not long after Friday’s game for Atlanta, where they will play on Saturday night against the Hawks. The game will be the start of a five-game, 10-night trip for the Magic. Orlando will play in Atlanta (Saturday), Houston (Monday), San Antonio (Wednesday), Chicago (Friday) and Cleveland (Sunday) during its longest road trip of the season.
Orlando could be without veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who sprained his right ankle in Friday’s first half and did not return. Nelson has missed 17 games this season because of groin, hip, Achilles, knee and forearm injuries.
Up as much as 16 points early on and leading by 12 at the break, the Magic inexplicably missed 10 of its first 11 shots of the third quarter. That offensive drought paved the way for Washington to go on a 17-4 that put it into the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter.
But Orlando responded with a 16-7 spurt of its own to take a 78-71 lead into the fourth quarter. The Magic stepped up their defense in the third quarter, swatting Wall’s shots three times in the final minute of the period.
Orlando led 58-46 at intermission after shooting 51.1 percent and getting double-digit scoring production from three players in the first half. The Magic had 15 assists on their 23 field goals despite losing Nelson to a sprained ankle. Harris scored a career-best 29 points on Wednesday and he got off to another blazing start Friday night by making six of his first 10 shots. He buried a 3-pointer for the first basket and never let up the rest of the half while pouring in 17 points in the first 24 minutes.
Just two nights after setting a career-high in assists with six, O’Quinn had four more assists in the first quarter. The Magic ran much of the offense through the 6-foot-10 center in the high post, and he found several cutters for easy baskets. Three of his first four assists led to dunks for the magic.
Orlando led by as much as 16 points in the first half despite an offensive onslaught from Wall. Wall, who scored 47 points on Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies, had 18 points early on – none more exciting than his last basket of the half. Wall intercepted a pass under the Magic’s basket with 2.9 seconds left in the half and finished a layup at the other end just before the halftime horn.
Udrih, who played previously with Harris in Milwaukee before the trade to Orlando, feels the talented forward is finally getting the chance to show how good he can be.
``When I was in Milwaukee with him I always knew he had the talent and potential to be a great player,’’ Udrih said. ``In Milwaukee I think they were holding him back. They didn’t give him the real chance to show what he can do. Here he’s getting a chance and he’s definitely proving himself and taking advantage of the chance.’’
Follow John Denton on Twitter here