Wizards Salvage Win in Orlando, Still Searching Through the Season's Fog | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Salvage Win in Orlando, Still Searching Through the Season’s Fog

Updated: November 26, 2016

The Wizards escaped Orlando with a 94-91 win on Friday night, despite being outscored by the Magic in each the second, third, and fourth quarters. In total, Orlando won that stretch 77-68, but what was built in the first quarter ultimately sealed Washington’s race to the top. That and being carried atop the back of John Wall.

The Wizards zoomed out to a game-high 19-point lead, 26-7, nine minutes into the contest—an opening stretch we’ll initially concentrate on. The catalyst was an unseen (thus far this season) team aggression on defense. Wall was all over the court as he often is capable of, but just a little more. At one point midway through the period Wall quite noticeably darted into the lane on helpside defense to dissuade a drive (perhaps too far), but then used his otherworldly athleticism to contest a 3-pointer in the corner, taking him way off the court. But as soon as the Wizards rebounded the miss, Wall flashed back into the picture to lead the charge for transition points.

Bradley Beal was more holistically locked in than ever this season, skying for rebounds and for at least once this season using his threat to score to create for others. (Orlando’s defense also loaded up on Beal, which only encouraged ball movement for the Wizards; he finished with eight assists.) Beal secured five points, three assists, and two rebounds in the first nine minutes. And Scott Brooks went early to the only player on the roster who is truly a handful in the post, Markieff Morris, and that pounding versus Serge Ibaka paved lanes on which other Wizards could move. Six different Wizards scored in the front nine and four starters each scored at least five points.

The sloppy Magic committed several unforced errors (six turnovers in that initial nine-minute stretch), but Washington created the environment for them to wilt. Even Morris was anticipating when he’d be needed on defense, poking away a pass from the helpside, the steal leading to an Otto Porter 3 (assist by Wall). Switching assignments in defending Orlando were executed with more precision (and of course, aided by the fact that opposing defenses can always go under screens set for Magic point guard Elfrid Payton). The point: the Wizards were very much the team they needed to be.

Wall was removed from the game with that 19-point lead, which coincided with a timeout request from Magic coach Frank Vogel. Orlando immediately ran off seven straight points to end the first quarter. Porter missed a pull-up 3, Andrew Nicholson missed an open 3, Marcin Gortat couldn’t handle a pass from Beal (turnover), and then Gortat and Marcus Thornton botched a screen. It continued into the second quarter—bricks, bad ball movement, and it just wasn’t Tomas Satoransky’s night. Ain’t bench life a bitch? From when Wall sat with three minutes left in the first until he returned at the eight-minute mark of the second, the Wizards shot 2-for-13 (0-6 on 3s) and were outrebounded 11-3 (5-2 on the offensive glass). But because of Orlando’s own sloppiness, the Wizards were only outscored 13-6 over that secondary stretch of eight minutes.

Washington was generally able to maintain an 8-10-point cushion from that point until midway through the third quarter when that dwindled and the game became tight. After halftime Elfrid Payton attacked the basket more aggressively, and that cracked the shell for his teammates. Payton scored nine in the third and Ibaka, after getting muscled by Morris early, scored 12. The Wizards didn’t especially need free throw attempts in the beginning with the way their offense was flowing, but it became especially noticeable when they were just 4-for-6 from the line by the end of the third—Porter 1-for-2, Thornton 2-for-2, and Wall 1-for-2. A flurry of offense (eight points in 82 seconds, including a buzzer-beating Nicholson 3) kept Washington ahead and afloat entering the fourth quarter, 72-68.

But by that point it was anyone’s game. The Magic tied the game within 90 seconds of the fourth and then took a 77-76 lead within four minutes. The Wizards did not score for over a three-minute stretch until consecutive Otto Porter 3-pointers became a saving grace at 82-83, Orlando. Then John Wall took the night back over.

Over the game’s final five minutes the Wizards outscored the Magic 12-8, with eight points coming from Wall (two amazing layups and 4-for-4 on free throws) and four points from Gortat. The Polish Machine could suddenly be seen slicing down the lane, found by intelligent passers in Porter and Wall. Orlando no longer had as much will to make shots, and that’s just how the post-Thanksgiving butter-ball kind of rolled in Washington’s direction.

Aside from an amazing opening nine minutes, Orlando outscored Washington 84-68 over the remaining 39 minutes. Similar to the win on Monday against Phoenix, the eye test (as well as the analytics) revealed a neck-and-neck contest between two middling teams, and for the Wizards, continued themes. All Washington starters finished positive in plus-minus; together they played 27 minutes (about five more than their average) and finished plus-17. All Wizards bench players finished in the negative.

Still, confidence can be a funny thing. In their 14th game of the season the Wizards picked up their first road win (in six tries) and collected their first win “streak” of the year—no, two wins in a row is not really considered a streak. The now 5-9 Wizards face an appropriate test at home this evening against the 13-3 San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Celtics in Boston last night, have won eight in a row, and are an undefeated 9-0 on the road so far this season.

Washington is certainly closer to finding comfort zones for its two stars, although it will be interesting to see how much fortitude Wall and Beal have in this back-to-back set (Beal’s body spilled onto the floor several times in Orlando). But no matter what type of challenge (or revelation) this matchup against the Spurs turns out to be (and regardless of two wins in a row), the Wizards continue to inch closer toward having to do something drastic to salvage this season.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.