By John Denton Jan. 12, 2018
WASHINGTON D.C. – The unusual combination of the nearby Potomac River being mostly frozen over with an unseasonably warm burst of weather in the air created an eerie, somewhat gloomy haze of fog over the nation’s capital on Friday.
As it turns out, the heavy pall provided an appropriate setting for the slumping Orlando Magic on yet another frustrating night in Washington, D.C.
Orlando played with more offensive precision than it has in weeks and it shared the ball all throughout the game as head coach Frank Vogel has asked for repeatedly. However, because the Magic defense had little luck at all in getting stops and was gashed all game by Bradley Beal and John Wall, they had little to show for the strong offensive effort.
Orlando had the lead with 5:49 to play thanks to all five starters being in double figures in scoring and 32 assists, but it couldn’t hold on defensively down the stretch and lost 125-119 to Washington for a seventh consecutive defeat.
``At the end of the day, I don’t think numbers matter if you don’t get a win,’’ said Magic center Bismack Biyombo, who scored a career-best 21 points, but could have just as easily been talking about the Magic’s gaudy offensive exploits. ``We’ve got to learn from this and grow from this. We’ve just got to find a way – somehow, some way and get it done.’’
Friday’s loss was the Magic’s second of the season in Washington and their 12th in the last 13 games in D.C.
The Magic (12-31) threatened to set season highs in several offensive categories in an up-tempo, back-and-forth game, but the strong showing wouldn’t be enough on a night when Washington (24-18) shot 56.8 percent from the floor and got huge nights from Beal (30 points and seven assists) and Wall (30 points and nine assists).
``I thought our guys really competed on the defensive end, but the results just weren’t there,’’ Vogel said. ``A lot of times we got to the rim (defensively) and made the proper rotation, but they just made the basket over us or beat us on a one-on-one play late in the clock.
``Credit (the Wizards) because they have two All-Star guards, their bigs are good finishers and they’ve got a lot of firepower,’’ Vogel added. ``But our guys really competed and I was proud.’’
Orlando led 111-110 with 5:49 to play when Mario Hezonja (nine points and five rebounds) dished to Biyombo for a dunk. Biyombo, the biggest benefactor of Orlando’s improved passing, made eight of nine shots and grabbed 13 rebounds.
However, the Magic’s lead only ignited the Wizards, who seemed to be on the verge of losing a 12th game this season to a team with a losing record. From there, the Wizards scored the next nine points that provided them with the necessary cushion to win the game and end the Orlando’s bid for a much-needed victory.
Beal needed less than a half to notch his ninth straight 20-point game – the second-best streak of his career. He scored only seven points in the second half, but he burned the Magic with four assists in the final 24 minutes. He made 10 of 13 first-half shots, backing up Vogel’s pregame claim that ``there should be no discussion’’ about whether or not the guard is worthy of a berth into the NBA All-Star Game.
Friday wrapped up a dismal three-game road trip in which the Magic went winless. Orlando fell apart in the second halves of losses in Dallas and Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday and they never could muster enough defensive stops on Friday for a victory. Orlando still hasn’t won since a Dec. 28 defeat of Detroit and it hasn’t won on the road since a Dec. 3 victory in New York – a span of 10 straight losses away from home.
``It’s not surprising because that’s our weakness – the defensive end – and we’ve got to improve,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve got to keep working at it and we are working at it and we’ve got to keep following our assignments and doing it with toughness. We’ve got to make winning plays and find ways to makes stops in those (end-of-game) situations.’’
Elfrid Payton, who scored a career-best 30 points last month when the Magic lost in Washington, scored 27 points and chipped in eight assists and five rebounds. Jonathon Simmons chipped in 23 points and five assists.
Aaron Gordon, who struggled mightily in Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee, had a night bounce-back night in a variety of ways. He scored just 14 points, but he helped make his teammates better with his 10 rebounds and a career-best-tying seven assists. Gordon had a tough break with 1:14 to play when his layup was initially ruled to be goal-tended, however a referee review took the basket off the board.
``I was definitely looking to get my teammates involved and it worked and helped, but I was a little too careless with the ball for my liking and everyone’s liking,’’ said Gordon, who made just four of 15 shots, but did drill three 3-pointers. ``Late game, I’ve got to make plays. During crunch time, especially. I’m going to go back and watch the film and see how that goes. I just didn’t like some of the shots that I took down the stretch, but you’ve got to learn and grow from it.’’
For the game, Orlando shot 51.3 percent and set up its 41 field goals with 32 assists. The Magic played so well offensively that they approached their season highs for points (128), field goal percentage (59.2 percent) and 39 assists.
Ian Mahinmi hurt Orlando off the bench with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 10 points and had a momentum building 3-pointer during Washington’s 9-0 burst that sealed the game.
Orlando will practice on Saturday and Monday – and take Sunday off – before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday at the Amway Center. The Magic dropped the first meeting of the season against the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Nov. 22.
Down just two at the half, Orlando bucked its recent trend of struggling in the third quarter and hung tough against the hot-shooting Wizards. When Marreese Speights drilled two straight 3-pointers and rookie Wes Iwundu converted a layup in traffic, the Magic got to the start of the fourth period locked in a 98-all tie with Washington.
Orlando shot 60.3 percent through three quarters and even more impressively it had assists in 26 of the first 35 baskets. The Magic’s stellar passing balanced out the scoring and all five starters had registered double-figures by the start of the fourth. Gordon was much more aggressive than he was in the first half, pumping in 12 third-quarter points.
Vogel has repeatedly been preaching to his team to play more with the pass, and the Magic embraced that practice in a competitive and highly entertaining first half. Orlando dished out 18 assists and shot 63.2 percent in the first 24 minutes, but still trailed the Wizards 65-63 at intermission because of defensive struggles.
In the end, all of those gaudy offensive numbers mattered very little because of the continued defensive woes. Orlando’s losing drought continued on this night – and figures to continue – until the squad can figure out how to better protect the rim. On this night, Orlando allowed Washington to score 74 paint points on 37 of 50 shooting (74 percent).
``I think when the ball gets to moving side to side and we have to make extra-effort plays, that’s when we’re just a tad slow,’’ said Orlando’s Simmons, who played his best game in weeks. ``We’re trying to get there, but we need to be earlier. We can do better.’’
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