Coming off back-to-back blowout losses, how can the Washington Wizards rebound and earn a much-needed win over the Orlando Magic?
Washington’s returning home after a road trip that saw them go 1-3. They’re putting up points, but still failing to play defense at a high level. Can they even the season series with the Orlando Magic?
A few keys to victory for the Wizards in this matchup with Orlando.
Protect the Paint…Efficiently
The Magic as a whole are a very poor three-point shooting team. Per NBA.com, their 29th in percentage, 27th in makes, and 21st in attempts per game. So look for them to do most of their scoring inside, a place where the Wizards have a tough time stopping teams.
Luckily, the Wizards won’t have to deal with Magic All-Star Nikola Vucevivc. The last time these two teams met, in November, Magic center Nikola Vucevic went off for 30 points. He scored nine of those points on three-pointers, where he’s become a legitimate threat.
Ideally, the Wizards will have to find a way to protect the paint that doesn’t involve hacking. In their contest versus Orlando earlier this season, the Wizards committed 21 fouls, forfeiting 26 free throw attempts in the process.
The Magic went 24-26 from the free-throw stripe, with a majority of those attempts having came from Vucevic and shooting guard Evan Fournier. Washington attempted just 12 free throws of which they made 10, well below their already low season average of 19.4.
In a four-point loss to the Magic, the Wizards shot 14 fewer free throws and finished with 14 fewer points at the line. You could say the game was won and lost on the charity stripe.
Ride the Bench Momentum
If Washington has any advantage over this Magic team, it’s their roster depth. In their previous matchup, the Wizards bench outscored Orlando’s 52 to 42.
That’s not the biggest difference in the world, but it’s unlikely we’ll see the Magic bench put up 40+ points yet again. Per NBA.com, the Magic bench scores 32.5 points per game on average, the 24th most in the league. In Orlando’s most recent win over the Golden State Warriors, the bench put up just 25.
The Wizards, well, they are the second-highest scoring bench unit in the NBA, putting up 47.6 points per night on average. Their 52 in Orlando earlier this season was far from a fluke.
Jordan McRae was also missing in action the last time these two teams faced, and he’s now averaging 8.8 points on 39 percent shooting from deep. Having an additional shooter in the bench lineup will only help to reinforce the Wizards’ depth.
Wizards to Watch
Keep an eye on rookie forward Rui Hachimura. He’s coming off two strong games against both Los Angeles teams on the Wizards’ four-game road trip. Now averaging 13.3 points on the season, he’ll have his hands full matched up with Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon.
Elsewhere, pay attention to Bradley Beal. He scored 34 points in the Wizards’ last outing with the Magic, and is prepped to exploit their guard depth once again on Tuesday night. And on the defensive end, he’ll hope to do a better job guarding Fournier, who scored 25 in the last matchup.
Vucevic is out so this could be a big game opportunity for Thomas Bryant. The last time these two teams faced off, Bryant scored 14 points and knocked down only one three-pointer. It was obvious that Vucevic was giving him problems on both ends of the floor. With Vucevic rehabbing an ankle injury, this might be just the occasion for Bryant’s three-point slump to finally break.
Washington will need to stay out of foul trouble early on, and keep an eye on the Magic’s numerous perimeter threats to stay in this one. A win would be huge for the freefalling Wizards, who are just three games ahead of the bottom-seed New York Knicks.