Wizards put on best show of the season to vanquish Magic
The Wizards have struggled for any wins this season. Against Orlando, in their coach's estimation, they won the game twice.
Cruising during a hot-shooting first half, Washington led 57-38 following Wall's free throws with 2:16 remaining. Apparently, not content for an easy night, the Wizards found themselves on the wrong end of a 15-2 Jameer Nelson-fueled run. The Magic's point guard drained two 3-pointers and cleverly stole Emeka Okafor's slow rolling inbound pass before setting up a buzzer-beating slam-dunk.
Suddenly the 19-point lead was only six. Suddenly an unwanted sense of déjà vu filled the Verizon Center, its stands filled with many who had seen the Wizards previously blow winnable games in inexplicable ways.
Just as suddenly, Washington changed momentum. Emeka Okafor's layup accounted for the first two of the Wizards' 37 points in the third and Orlando would never move closer. Bradley Beal scored nine of his 17 in the quarter and John Wall closed the scoring with his dastardly crossed over dribble that the left the Magic's Ish Smith behind and set up Kevin Seraphin's dunk. By outscoring Orlando by 13 in the quarter, Washington's 19-point lead was back again. Once again, the Magic would get no closer.
"We had the stretch at the end of the first half which usually spells disaster for us," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I told the guys we let it slip away and now we got to win the game again. They came out and did it."
They came out and did it unlike other several times this season when leads disappeared into thin air, including:
* Nov. 10 at Indiana. In its fifth game of the season, Washington led 47-40 with 3:32 left in the second quarter. By halftime, the game was tied at 47. Up 75-70 just 27 seconds into the fourth, the Wizards are outscored 10-0 over the next four minutes and never lead again.
* Dec. 26 vs. Cleveland. The Wizards led 64-55 with 5:11 left in the third only to see the Cavaliers close the quarter on a 13-4 run. Able to forge back ahead and lead 79-73 with 6:19 left in game, Washington made one field goal the rest of the way, losing 87-84
* Jan. 4 vs. Nets. The granddaddy of the blow leads. Poised for only their second win in 13 games, the Wizards were up 101-93 with 1:27 to play in the first overtime. Just 71 seconds later, Brooklyn takes the lead after scoring 11 straight. Beal's 3-pointer forced a second overtime, but Washington lost in the extra, extra session.
"How many times we've been here," Wittman said after losing to Brooklyn. "I've lost count."
That was then. Two games later, the Wizards went from up five on Oklahoma City with 96 remaining too tied with 36 seconds after a Serge Ibaka jumper and a Kevin Durant 3-pointer. Yet this time, Washington did not wilt and made the winning play. Beal's one-handed floater with 0.3 seconds left stunned the Thunder.
Then came Monday.
By the time the final buzzer sounded in the 120-91 win over Orlando, Washington had established several season-highs including total points, field-goal percentage (56.1 percent), assists (32), points in a quarter (37), largest margin of victory, most players scoring in double figures and consecutive wins (3). Some if not all of those marks do not exist without the tremendous amount of resolve shown at halftime.
"I liked what I saw today in our guy's eyes at halftime," Wittman said. "We blow a 19 point and are up six. I didn't see the glaze, holy crap here we go again' [look]. It showed right away in the third quarter we immediately built it up to 10, 12, 13 right away and that was a good sign."
No glaze, just focus on correcting the issues.
“We made a very good point to come in at halftime and just understand what we did," said A.J. Price, who scored a season-high 18 points. "Rectify our mistakes toward the end of the half and know that we can’t do that if we want to be a good team...We wanted to come out in the third quarter and really just try to step on their throat.”
Surviving a mulligan is a tougher task on the road, which is where Washington plays its next five games starting Wednesday in Sacramento. Considering the Wizards have only one win in 16 away contests this season, picking up two on the trip would be an accomplishment. Another potential accomplishment going forward for the improving squad: no longer having to win the same game twice.