It came down to a grind.
The Wizards do not grind well.
Dwight Howard had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jameer Nelson had 11 assists against one turnover and weary Magic blew away the Wizards at Verizon Center 110-92.
It was the first game that Gilbert Arenas, traded for Rashard Lewis in December, played the team he had been with for seven years. He got a mixed ovation when he first entered the game late in the first quarter and, ironically, was the epitome of the grind that the Magic used to carry the win. Arenas played 24:38 and had 10 points, six assists and six rebounds and when it was time to play defense handled himself beyond his coach’s expectations.
“I thought Gilbert defensively was fabulous,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I don’t know how many times that coaches stood here and said that about him. We put him on Nick Young and I thought he did a hell of a job making it tough on Young and he came back and had six rebounds, was coming back to the boards.”
Arenas grabbed rebounds, took charges and played important minutes for a team that had a drop-down, drag-out brawl in losing to the Miami Heat 104-100 on Thursday.
“I think he is playing with more energy,” Van Gundy said. “Even tonight he was taking the ball to the basket and making more plays. His field goal percentage is low. Right now we have a few guys struggling. He is not getting the ball in the basket a whole lot, he is shooting in the mid-30s or something, but, that will come. I like the last couple nights his energy has been better, he has been better about attacking. He had six assists tonight. I thought there were some good things plus what he defensively.”
In the first quarter though, it did not look like the Magic would need Arenas at all. With a few minutes to play in the period, Orlando led 29-15 with Nelson and Howard eating Washington for late supper. Howard had three big dunks in the first, two coming courtesy of the ‘oop via Nelson.
But, Howard played 48 minutes against the Heat. The player called “Superman” could not keep up his high-wire act all night.
So, come the second quarter, Van Gundy sat his superstar and went with Malik Allen, who was able to give Howard a much-needed breather. Not coincidentally, Washington climbed back into the game, turning in a 22 to six run that made the score 37-35 midway through the second. Perhaps the Wizards could take advantage of the Magic fatigue and steal a game from a division rival trying to track down the leaders in the Eastern Conference.
“He started the game and looked really tired, 48 minutes last night,” Van Gundy said. “I thought it was huge that Malik was able to give us some minutes and really hold the fort. He is not going to look like a great thing on the stat sheet but the fact that he could give us some minutes and allow Dwight to get some rest after playing 48 last night was huge.”
Washington traded blows with the Magic until the 4:00 minute mark of the third period before the talent of Orlando took over the game. Howard started 10 for 10 from the field and did not miss a shot until the third but was on top of his game. Forward Ryan Anderson gave Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee fits (because, if you are above 6-foot 7-inches and play for an opposing team, the Wizards will let you do anything you want). Little used forward Earl Clark even got in on the mix for the Magic, turning in a 10 point, seven rebound effort.
By the middle of the fourth, the game was over. Orlando once again reclaimed a 14-point lead and a large barrage provided the 19-point final margin.
The lone bright spot for the Wizards was the gritty play (and sky jam in the fourth period) from Trevor Booker. Six blocked shots, six rebounds, six points in 23:50 floor time though he was a guy who you noticed when he was in the game. A discussion between reporters waiting for Van Gundy went something like this “man, if you could only give JaVale McGee the brain of Trevor Booker, now, that would be a player.”
“It is what I have been waiting for,” Booker said of the dunk.
Kirk Hinrich added 17 quiet points for the Wizards. Blatche had 10 points and six rebounds while Lewis went for 14 points and eight rebounds. The Wizards have now lost seven straight games. Part of that is because they do not have the talent or the on-court smarts to be able to grind out games and when motivated, if tired, opponents come in they know that if they apply just so much pressure, eventually Washington will fade away. The Magic did it Friday and it will happen again and again as the rest of the season progresses.