In a night of many positives, the Wizards were not able to pull out the ultimate positive and win the game at the Amway Center. Despite their gritty effort, the Wiz lost 109 to 103 to the Orlando Magic.
When talking about the bright spots from this game you have to start with the second unit’s production throughout the game. The bench’s impact started at the end of the first quarter when the Wizards were able to cut the Magic lead to five with a 6-0 run. That momentum carried over into the second quarter as the Wizards turned up the full-court defensive pressure on the Magic, who were without their starting point guard Jameer Nelson. With Shelvin Mack, Jordan Crawford, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, and Kevin Seraphin on the floor the energy was there and their defensive pressure led to sloppy play by Orlando and easy baskets for Washington.
At the 8:38 mark in the second period, Shelvin Mack made a three pointer to take the lead, but neither team was able to take any real advantage until Orlando hit back-to-back three pointers to take a six point lead with just over three minutes left until halftime. Randy Wittman immediately called timeout and John Wall at that point entered the game for the first time since the first quarter. JaVale McGee (who got into early foul trouble) also got back onto the court at the end of the first half, only to pick up his third foul of the half with less than a minute left in the second quarter. This led to Hamady Ndiaye’s season debut, which only consisted of those final 43 seconds of the first half.
At the half the Wizards trailed 47 to 43.
At halftime I wrote that the second half would be very telling for the Wizards. We’ve seen the Wizards get blown out plenty of times this season, and just because the team loses a hard fought and competitive game, it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Losing is losing, and that’s never good. But tonight there was progress made in the final 24 minutes of regulation, even without a win to show for it.
Poor third quarters have become a far too common occurrence for Washington, but tonight was different — and that was part of the progress made tonight. In the opening minutes of the third quarter Nick Young picked up his fourth foul and was sent to the bench. At the time this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. To that point he had struggled with only four points and Jordan Crawford had the hot hand in the first half. Much like the second quarter, Washington was able to re-take the lead about four minutes into the quarter. But just two minutes later the Magic once again drilled consecutive three pointers to stretch their lead to six and Randy Wittman used another timeout. Coming out of the timeout and on the Wizards’ next three offensive possessions we saw three consecutive Jordan Crawford assists to Kevin Seraphin. Crawford — who played a smart game tonight — found Seraphin twice for scores at the rim and he followed it up with an assist to Seraphin when he knocked down a 10 foot jump shot.
While Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin were two of the players that enjoyed good individual games tonight, John Wall was not one of them. Even though he added 10 assists, 7 rebounds, and only had a modest 3 turnovers, Wall was clearly frustrated and mad at himself for his inability to score the basketball tonight. After the game in the locker room John was asked about how he was seen hanging his head on the bench in the third quarter, and he told us, “I was just happy for my teammates. They’re who kept us in the game. And Shelvin Mack had one of his best games. But I was just trying to stay away from everyone and just try to get my focus back. I couldn’t find a rhythm.” He admitted he was frustrated — as anyone would be after going 1 for 12 from the field. “I take it personal on myself. The easy lay-ups, easy pull-ups I missed. And those are the shots I’ve been making lately.”
However, even without a single point from John Wall, Washington was only down by one point after three quarters trailing 69 to 68.
After a hot start to the game from three point range, the Magic cooled off from beyond the arc, but they found their stroke in the fourth quarter. Early in the period, Orlando’s Chris Duhon and Von Wafer connected on threes. But the Wizards wouldn’t go away. After being in foul trouble most of the game, Nick Young found his shot. He added 21 points in the quarter and went four for five from three-point range.
The hard part to grasp down the stretch was why were Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker sitting on the bench for most of the stretch run tonight? Because of JaVale McGee being in foul trouble most of the game, Dwight Howard was mostly Kevin Seraphin’s responsibility and while if you look at the box score it’ll say that Howard was dominant, he really wasn’t. In most games against the Wizards, Dwight Howard has dominant performances when he is mostly matched up with JaVale McGee. Seraphin had done a good job all night getting physical with Dwight Howard, and he added seven rebounds and a double-digit scoring effort with 12 points (6/7 from the field).
On the flip side, JaVale McGee’s fourth quarter was mostly one to forget. He got posterized by Dwight Howard with 5:56 remaining in the game and he got hit in the head earlier in the quarter on a pass not intended for him courtesy of Jordan Crawford.
The Wizards were able to stay competitive and keep it close until the end, but weren’t ever able to regain the lead in the waning minutes — even when things got as close as four points.
We’ve known for a while that this season wasn’t going to amount to anything more than potential flashes of things to come and player development, and because of that, this season has become a season of silver linings. Tonight’s game provided many.
I’ve never been one for moral victories, but it’s hard to discount the ones we saw tonight. Shelvin Mack and Kevin Seraphin had the best game of their respective careers. Jordan Crawford played the role we envisioned he would — the instant offense scorer off the bench, as opposed to just chucking the ball up every chance he got. Trevor Booker was once again terrific off the bench with 8 points and 9 rebounds, and Chris Singleton was once again good on defense — even though his box score stats show nothing. Also, Rashard Lewis looked the best he has in a while with 20 points, 8 rebounds, three 3-pointers.
Following the game I made it down to Randy Wittman’s post-game press conference where he met the media with a somber tone. “I feel bad for those guys in there” as he looked towards the locker room. “We keep playing as hard as we did and we’ll eventually get there.” And he concluded his presser with, “We’re not worried about who we’re playing right now. We’re worried about the Washington Wizards and playing the right way.”
After the game the players we spoke to all had positive things to say about tonight’s game. “Everybody started to believe. That was the main thing.” Jordan Crawford said. Rashard Lewis echoed similarly positive sentiments when he said, “I thought we did a lot of positive things.”
Finally, we talked to John Wall. He was asked if he sees progress and can take solace in being competitive, even in a loss. Wall said, “Yeah. I can take solace in it. I like how we were competing. Keeping ourselves in the game. Even when we get down, we kept fighting, and Orlando is a tough team that was going through a tough time. They probably thought it was gonna be an easy game but we came in and fought.”
I don’t usually agree with that line of thinking, but tonight, John is right.