Postgame Report: Magic vs. Wizards

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

WASHINGTON, D.C. – If ever the steadily improving Orlando Magic – winners of two straight and four of five coming into this one – were going to end their many years of horror in Washington, Monday seemed to be the ideal night.

After all, Orlando had shot a solid 48.3 percent from the floor, drilled half of its 30 3-point shots and sat tied with the Washington Wizards with slightly more than seven minutes to play.

However, that’s roughly the point when the Magic’s hopes of winning in Washington came to an abrupt end. Already in the bonus because of Orlando’s inability to defend without fouling, Washington got to the free throw line 12 times over those final seven minutes and made just enough of them for a 117-109 victory that extended the Magic’s misery in the nation’s capital.

In a game that featured 18 lead changes, 17 ties and a knotted score at the end of each of the first three quarters, the Magic (6-8) lost in gut-wrenching fashion when they were outscored 34-26 over the final 12 minutes. The Wizards (4-9) made (13) and attempted (18) more free throws in the fourth quarter than the foul-prone Magic did all game (eight of 11).

``Like Coach (Steve Clifford) said, `When you are tied entering the fourth quarter and you score (26) points in the fourth quarter on the road, it should be enough to win,’ but we didn’t get to the stops to win it,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 20 points, five assists and three 3-pointers. ``You can’t put a team in the bonus with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter because it puts so much pressure on your defense. Then, they’re going to be aggressive and looking for contact. So, we put ourselves in a bad situation starting off the fourth quarter.’’

For the game, Washington made 24 of 33 free throws. That plus-16 advantage from the charity stripe proved to be the difference on a night when the Magic sank three more field goals and two more 3-pointers.

Orlando, which whipped Washington three nights earlier at the Amway Center, was trying to win its third game in a row and its fifth in the past six games, but it lost after getting outplayed down the stretch. That poor finish might have had something to do with the Magic playing for a second time in as many nights and for a seventh time in the past 11 days. Or it could have been because the Magic simply didn’t get enough steady production off the bench other than guard Terrence Ross (21 points and four 3-pointers).

Whatever the reason, it added up to another Orlando loss in Washington to the Wizards (4-9). Orlando has now lost 13 of the last 14 games in Washington with the only win coming in December of 2016.

``It’s frustrating because this was a good opportunity for us,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds while facing former Orlando standout Dwight Howard (17 points and eight rebounds). ``We had a 10-point lead in the third and we let it slip away really quick. In the fourth, we didn’t execute on the defensive end and we fouled a lot. They got to the free throw line a lot. Against a team like they are, if you foul a lot, it’s going to be hard (to win).’’

Aaron Gordon, who returned after missing one game with an ankle sprain, had 18 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes. D.J. Augustin had 15 points and four assists as the Magic got double-digit scoring production from five players and starter Wes Iwundu (eight points and four assists) was just a basket away. Still, it wasn’t enough to win because of the fouling late in the night.

A night after hitting 17 3-pointers in New York, the Magic drilled another 15 threes on Monday. Meanwhile, Washington shot 50.6 percent from the floor with 13 threes. All-star point guard John Wall had 25 points and 10 assists, while Bradley Beal chipped in 21 and former Orlando forward Jeff Green scored 10 of his 18 in the fourth period.

``They shot 18 free throws in the fourth and we shot two,’’ Clifford fumed. ``To win on the road, we scored 26 in the fourth and that’s got to be enough to win. But if you are going to put them at the free throw that much, it’s going to be hard to win.’’

Very little at all separated the two Southeast Division rivals over the first three quarters of Monday’s game. Orlando and Washington were tied at the end of each of the first three quarters – 30-30 after one period, 55-55 after two and 83-all as they headed into the fourth. During that time, there were 18 lead changes and 17 ties.

Orlando led 89—86 early in the fourth following Ross’ fourth 3-pointer of the game, but from there Green took over. He had a three to tie it at 89, another three minutes later and a thunderous alley-oop dunk to give Washington a 101-96 advantage. When the two teams played in Orlando three nights earlier, the Wizards used a small-ball lineup of Green at center to hurt the Magic. On Monday, Washington did it again.

``I think we fouled early in the fourth, giving them the bonus too early, but it just didn’t go our way,’’ a dejected Ross said. ``We’ve just got to adjust (to the smaller Washington lineup). There are no excuses. We’ve just got to adjust. We’ve got to make sure that we’re on the same page on the fly and teams are going to make adjustments during the game. We have to adjust to that. With their style of play, we knew they were going to try to make us uncomfortable and get us out of what we’re doing. So, we have to do a better job of playing our style.’’

Orlando was playing for the second time in as many nights. The Magic won in impressive fashion on Sunday, demolishing the New York Knicks by 26 points. That was the Magic’s most lopsided win at Madison Square Garden in the franchise’s 30-year history.

Following their third back-to-back of the season, the Magic will get a day off on Tuesday. The Magic will be back on the Amway Center parquet on Wednesday when they host the Philadelphia 76ers and newly acquired forward Jimmy Butler. The 76ers acquired Butler for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jeryd Bayless and a second-round pick from Minnesota. Butler, an all-star each of the past four seasons, had averaged 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals in 10 games with the Timberwolves.

The two teams were playing just three nights after squaring off in Orlando – a game the Magic won 117-108. That night, Orlando dominated the game in the early going and led by as much as 25 points midway through the third period. However, Washington clawed back into that game, getting to within one of Orlando before the Magic pulled away for the victory.

The Magic and Wizards headed into the fourth quarter tied at 83 – which wasn’t much of a surprise considering how the early stages of the game played out. The two teams were tied at 30 after the first quarter and knotted at 55 at halftime. There were 13 ties in the first three quarters and neither team led by more than 10 points.

The Magic threatened to run away with it early in the third by making their first five shots of the second half. That strong stretch and more steady play put Orlando up 77-67, but Washington would respond with 12 straight points to re-take the lead.

Never ahead by more than six points over the game’s first 41 minutes, the Wizards ended the Magic’s hopes of winning in Washington with their steady parade to the free throw line. While the loss was a difficult one for Orlando to stomach, it did little to dent to confidence that the Magic have built up over a recent run of solid play.

``We’re definitely playing better basketball than we were a month ago, but we’ve got to keep getting better and build upon it,’’ Ross said. ``We have to keep being willing to work.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.