- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

In the end, the pyrotechnic show that rivaled anything the MTV Video Music Awards might have staged couldn’t compare to the beauty Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan saw in the Washington Wizards’ ugly duckling-like 87-79 home-opening victory over the Orlando Magic at sold-out MCI Center.

The Wizards improved to 3-0 for the first time since they started the 1978-79 season 4-0.

In pregame introductions, each Wizards player rode a hidden elevator in a corner of the arena, then descended a red-carpeted set of stairs at least 20 feet high while flanked by torches spitting flames. But Jordan saw only the beauty of what his team — which is winning ugly with great defense — is accomplishing on the floor.

“Our last three games or our first three games, however you want to look at it, 36 percent, 38 percent and 31 percent [from the field] for the opponents,” said Jordan, reflecting on last night’s win and wins at Toronto and New York, respectively. “It’s something we emphasized all summer, all preseason, all camp. And even though we haven’t shot the ball well and have been outrebounded, our defense has just been gutting it out. And we have to attribute it to everybody.”

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 30 points. He got help from Antawn Jamison, who finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Brendan Haywood turned in his third strong performance of the season with seven points, 10 rebounds and four of the Wizards’ 12 blocks.

The Magic fell to 0-3 despite placing four players in double figures. Dwight Howard finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic. They also got 16 points from Steve Francis, who shot 5-for-16 from the field.

Washington’s defense forced the Magic into 10 consecutive missed field goals to start the fourth quarter, finally allowing DeShawn Stevenson a layup with 5:05 left.

However, because the Wizards offense wasn’t exactly scintillating (29-for-71 shooting), Orlando trailed by just three points at the time.

The Magic pulled within 81-79 with 2:02 left when Francis hit a 3-pointer, but those were Orlando’s last points of the night.

That the Wizards won with their defense instead of their offense was a surprise to Magic coach Brian Hill, whose team is without the injured Grant Hill (sports hernia).

“This is a high-powered offensive team in my mind,” Brian Hill said. “They have a lot of weapons. But we struggled offensively and were a little hesitant against their zone defense. We didn’t attack it in the middle with our big men slashing in like we would have liked.”

The Wizards did suffer one setback during the game.

With 3:59 left in the third quarter and the Wizards trailing 57-53, guard Antonio Daniels landed on Francis’ foot after attempting a jumper, rolling his ankle. He had to be helped from the floor by teammates and went to the locker room. He finished with eight points and a team-high four assists.

After trailing by as many as nine points in the quarter, the Wizards rallied despite losing Daniels, outscoring the Magic 12-0 during the next three minutes to take a 69-65 lead on Michael Ruffin’s tip-in with a little less than a minute to play.

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