By the time the referee threw the ball up to signify the start of the game against the Orlando Magic, the Washington Wizards knew they would be without Rashard Lewis and Nick Young. Lewis continues to battle knee tendinitis and Young was a late scratch with swelling his knee. Their absences meant the Wizards had to somehow account for the 30 points they usually bring to the starting lineup.
From scoring the first points of the game on a layup 42 seconds in, John Wall demonstrated that he was in an offensive state of mind and capable of picking up the slack by scoring 13 points in the opening period. Seemingly all of his baskets on the evening would follow this sequence: Wall would take the outlet or inbound pass, he would run by the Orlando big men, and then he would outmaneuver the Orlando guards en route to a layup. He peppered in a couple short jumpers, some free throws, and one three-pointer later in the game, but the majority of his damage was done in the paint. He finished with 27 points, five rebounds, two steals and just one assist.
It can be argued that Wall, who averages nearly 10 assists a game, wasn’t doing his job as a point guard if he only dished out one dime. False. Dwight Howard kept pressure on Washington’s big men by often catching the ball deep in the paint (thanks to repeated poor post position from JaVale McGee, lack of strength from Hilton Armstrong or lack of experience from Kevin Seraphin), and forcing them to foul. Howard went 8-11 from the free-throw line and 12-15 from the field to tally 32 points.
Wall kept pressure on the Orlando defense by repeatedly getting into the lane and ending up with a layup or a trip to the foul line. So what happened when the Magic actually stopped him and other teammates were forced to step up?
Kirk Hinrich got off to a hot start in the second quarter by scoring eight points, and looked to be headed towards a productive game. Unfortunately, he only shot the ball nine times and scored just two points after the second quarter. He did shake the living daylights out of J.J. Redick, forcing him to fall backwards, but he never provided Wall with consistent help.
Cartier Martin and Josh Howard filled in for Young and Lewis and were assigned the tall task of accounting for those missing 30 points. Martin addressed the void by missing his first eight shots. By the time he hit his first bucket in the third quarter (a shot that took so long to come, he shook his head in disgust as he ran back down the court), the Wizards were down 23 points. Martin ended up shooting 2-13 with five points. Howard didn’t exactly light things up either, as he shot 1-10 with just three points and seven rebounds.
The starting frontcourt of McGee and Blatche did not help Wall in the scoring department either. McGee played just 14 minutes due to the foul trouble courtesy of Howard, and the four points he did score came in garbage time. Blatche was the Wizards’ second leading scorer behind Wall with 15 points, but he shot 6-of-17 the field to arrive at that total. I could give credit to Blatche for scoring six straight points midway through the third quarter to cut Magic lead from 24 to 18 points at 70-52, and I could give him credit for grabbing nine rebounds, but he was mostly guarded by Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson, hardly excuse-worthy defenders.
Trevor Booker and Al Thornton have come up big as fill-ins for the Wizards at times this season. Booker had a monster 21 point, 12 rebound game in Oklahoma City when McGee was sick with flu. Thornton came up big with 18 points against New Jersey back in mid-December when both Blatche and Wall sat out with knee problems. Neither had that in them against the Magic. Booker played 22 minutes, shot two times and scored just two points. Thornton had an impressive drive early in the second quarter, but shortly after that he left the game and did not return due to his dislocated finger.
Like Wall, Howard played a spectacular game with 10 rebounds and three blocks to go with his efficient 32 points. But while Wall had nothing but bad shooting nights around him, Howard had plenty of help. Anderson scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass scored 16 and 15 points respectively. Orlando finished with 101 points and shot 45.2-percent from the field.
Meanwhile, the Wizards attempted one less field goal and shot just 34-percent (28-percent without Wall’s 10-for-17). According to Synergy Sports Technology, Washington had 104 offensive possessions that ended in a FGA, TO or FTs — 26-percent of those possessions came on Spot-Up opportunities, Washington shot 6-23 on those; 13.5-percent came on Isolation plays, where they finished 4-10; and 9.6-percent came on Post-Ups, where they went 2-9.
The Wizards scored 76 points, lost by 25 points and wasted a spectacular effort from their franchise player. Washington ended the first half of the season the same way they began it — getting blown out by Orlando.