- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001


ORLANDO, Fla. If there is one player in the NBA who probably would prefer to keep working through the All-Star break, it would be Orlando guard Darrell Armstrong, because nobody is hotter.

The Washington Wizards, who will not come together again until Monday, can no doubt attest to this. Last night Armstrong, the NBA's most recent choice as Player of the Week, sent the Wizards into their midseason vacation with a 107-98 loss to the Magic before 13,548 at TD Waterhouse Centre.

Armstrong made a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 19 of his game-high 32 points in the second half as Orlando (25-23) rallied to go into the break riding a season-high six-game winning streak. Armstrong was not the only hot member of the Magic. Orlando made 12 of 20 from behind the 3-point arc, which also is a season high.

"We knew they were a good shooting team," Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We tried to address that. We did a decent job of it in the first half. But they got on a roll in the second half. Every time we pushed up, they moved further out. In many cases, people will shoot their percentage if you leave them open, but these guys shot better then their percentages tonight."

Actually, the Magic didn't shoot any better than the Wizards, who matched them by shooting 44 percent from the field. But it was Orlando's outside accuracy of the Magic that sent the Wizards to their third loss in a row.

"You already have a guy like [Tracy] McGrady out there. But when you add Armstrong, put a Pat Garrity, [Michael] Doleac and then [Mike] Miller, it becomes tough to double off T-Mac. That's when they can kill you with their shooting."

Juwan Howard led the Wizards (12-37) with 25 points. Washington has lost eight straight games to the Magic. And when the teams have met in Florida the results have been even worse. Orlando has beaten Washington in 15 of the last 16 meetings. Overall, the Wizards have lost 12 of their last 13 road games.

Although they still have won five of their last eight games, the Wizards, are looking forward to some time off. Last night they were minus the services of Rod Strickland (sore hamstrings kept him home),

"When you have a break like this you want to take advantage of it," Howard said. "You need to get your mind right, get refocused and prepared to play the first game after the break. You need to be fresh and rejuvenated."

Howard's choice of adjectives applied mostly to the play of the Magic in the second half. Down by as many as 12 points in the first, Orlando outscored Washington 56-43 after the break. And although Washington rallied numerous times, the Magic went ahead for good, 82-80, on 3-point basket by reserve guard Troy Hudson with 8:42 left.

Orlando, which got 24 points from first-time All-Star McGrady, appears to have come to grips with the fact that if it is going to have any success this season, it is going to have to come without Grant Hill, who had season-ending ankle surgery last month. But in recent days the team has been playing so well that his presence has not been missed. Orlando's current winning streak includes a double-overtime victory in Philadelphia. And in its last nine games of which it has won seven Orlando has beaten playoff teams such as San Antonio, Indiana and Toronto. They've done it with a variety of weapons, but last night more than anything else, it was their long-distance shooting.

"We took too many 3-point shots, but we were making them," Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. "When you are shooting 60 percent from the 3-point line, you got to keep taking them. When our shooters are making shots, it is very difficult for teams to double team Tracy McGrady."

The Wizards' sound defense limited the Magic to just 40 percent shooting from the floor in the first quarter. The Wizards also benefited from McGrady being whistled for his second foul with 5:33 left in the quarter.

With the game tied 22-22, Washington got a 3-pointer from Mitch Richmond, and Jahidi White's tip gave the Wizards a 27-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Strickland's absence once again forced the Wizards to swing Richard Hamilton over to point guard to help spell Chris Whitney in the second quarter. It also enabled the Wizards to utilize a big backcourt of Richmond and Hamilton. Richmond benefited from this in a big way in the first half as he scored nine points off the bench. Tyrone Nesby added nine points.

Washington took its biggest lead of the first half with a 16-7 run that pushed the margin to 47-35 on Howard's turnaround jumper with 5:21 left in the half.

But Orlando looked reenergized in the last five minutes and outscored the Wizards 16-8 to trail by just 55-51 at halftime.

Orlando looked as if it might blow the Wizards out in the third quarter, primarily because Armstrong caught fire. He scored 11 points in the quarter and got them in a variety of ways.

He connected on a pair of 3s one of which gave the Magic a 59-57 lead and he made dashing drives to the basket. Armstrong was the driving force as Orlando built its lead to 77-69 late in the third quarter as Washington seemingly had no answer for him.

But Howard, who has played like an All-Star for the last 25 games, would not let the Wizards fall too far out of contention. Howard answered Armstrong's onslaught with nine points, and Washington closed the third quarter on a 9-2 run that closed what ha been an eight-point Orlando lead to just 79-78 at the start of the fourth quarter.

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