Back on November 27th when the Washington Wizards last faced the Orlando Magic, four of their five starters struggled mightily. JaVale McGee was in foul trouble all night trying to guard Dwight Howard; Alonzo Gee, known more for his hustle than his scoring prowess (and now a former Wizard), had eight points and seven rebounds, but really had no effect on outcome. Andray Blatche grabbed 13 rebounds, but scored just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Kirk Hinrich, starting for the injured John Wall, shot 3-for-12 and finished with nine points.
The fifth starter that night was Mr. Gilbert Arenas, and he lit his future team up for 31 points, and despite the Wizards’ 100-99 loss, Arenas’ play kept them competitive. He later admitted to the Orlando media that “he had to prove a point” to his friend, and Magic GM, Otis Smith.
Last night, Arenas no longer had to prove a point or show the Magic what he could do, because he was donning the Orlando Magic blue. Rather, Washington fans witnessing his return got more of a meat-and-potatoes version of Arenas; he scored 10 points off the bench to go with six assists, six rebounds and some decent defense. Unfortunately for the Wizards, their starters still struggled, and instead of losing by one point, they lost by 18.
Wall was healthy this time, and put up decent numbers of 14 points, five assists and five rebounds. But he did not have a good feel for the ball, did not find his teammates consistently and was visibly frustrated by the lack of calls. He picked up two technical fouls in a span of two minutes late the fourth quarter and he was eventually ejected, and the writers from Truth About It and Bullets Forever immediately began to tally up the resulting fines Wall owed both the NBA and the Wizards.
Nick Young and Rashard Lewis scored 17 and 14 points respectively, but neither player was able to establish a rhythm and distinguish themselves as a legitimate threat. Young seemed to be under Arenas’ spell, and Lewis, who swore after the game that he wasn’t under the spell of his former team, lacked the assertiveness he had displayed in recent games.
Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were mentally out of the contest, unsure who took them out of their game more, themselves or the intimidation of Dwight Howard and Co. Blatche, much like Lewis, never found his offensive rhythm, and was saddled with foul trouble on the defensive end. McGee was outclassed by Howard on defense, and on offense he consistently made bonehead plays, which promptly landed him on the bench. In the first quarter, instead of passing the ball to Wall after grabbing a defensive rebound, McGee dribbled down the court himself (to the gasps and moans from everyone in the building), and finally tried to hold up and pass when he didn’t have anything. The ball bobbled out of bounds off of him. Saunders immediately called Hilton Armstrong off the bench. Coach Saunders said after the game:
“He’s still got to mentally learn. I think everyone in this room and in the arena does not like the fact that he gets the ball at three quarters court and thinks that he’s a 6’2″ guard and starts dribbling. That’s understanding roles. John Wall has a role, that’s his role give him the ball let him go. Your role is like Dwight Howard, running the basket, protect and get there, and eventually he’ll get it.”
Luckily for the Wizards, the bench, led by Yi, Kirk Hinrich and Trevor Booker, played with high energy in the second and fourth quarters, and did the job that the starters failed to do. Yi hit several of his patented elbow jumpers and grabbed six rebounds, and Hinrich shot 3-5 from three-point range. Kirk totally disregarded J.J.Redick’s attempts to guard him, and even threw a quick elbow at his face late in the fourth quarter. Trevor Booker picked up McGee’s slack in the blocked shot department and swatted six attempts, including two of Arenas’ at the rim. Oh, and by the way, he also did something to the Magic’s Earl Clark that caused Dwight Howard jump out of his seat and Al Thornton to throw his towel:
Coach Saunders noticed the stark contrast between the bench and the starters:
“Our bench was great tonight. Our starters were terrible to start the game, and they didn’t do a very good job in the third quarter. Booker was great, he had great energy and played with a great amount of enthusiasm. Hinrich was great tonight but we just didn’t have the energy from the first group that we needed, so their minutes were cut somewhat.”
The lack of energy from the Wizards starters in the first quarter was especially disturbing, given that the Magic had just played (and lost) a hard fought game against the Miami Heat . Dwight Howard who had played all 48 minutes the night before, was catching alley-oops from teammates, sprinting back on defense, and shooting a perfect five-for five from the field. The Wizards’ starters, who had not played since Tuesday night in New Orleans, and had even taken part in pre-game four-on-four drills in preparation for the game, were unable to capitalize–and as a result they found themselves down 29-21 in the first quarter, and they never truly recovered.
After the game, John Wall seemed was grimacing noticeably as heraised his pants over his sore knees, and pulled his shoes over his sore ankles. He looked more like a man who had played in the Super Bowl, than someone who had played 37 minutes of basketball. In contrast, Rashard Lewis, despite meeting defeat at the hands of his former team (and eating a rainbow jumper by Hedo Turkoglu in the closing seconds of a game already out of reach), seemed upbeat and ready to put the loss behind him.