- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

It is hard to make a player as talented as Tracy McGrady look better than he actually is, but the Washington Wizards have managed to do that in all three of their losses to the lowly Orlando Magic this season.

Last night at MCI Center, McGrady scored a game-high 39 points — including 13 in the fourth quarter — to lead the team with the most losses in the NBA to a 104-100 victory over the slow-starting Wizards.

“When you have McGrady on the floor, you tend to always shade toward him, and if you don’t give the help that you need in the post, he puts you in a bind,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.

McGrady seems to have a special knack against Washington (13-31). Since he entered the league out of high school in 1997, McGrady has had 51- and 49-point efforts against the Wizards.

And even though he is second in the league in scoring (26.8), in his three games against the Wizards this season he is averaging 33.2 points.

But as good as McGrady was, the difference was a lack of defense by the Wizards in the first half, especially in the halfcourt, where Orlando (13-34) made 62.5 percent of its shots. Overall, the Magic shot 52.4 percent,

“We didn’t come out and do anything to make them uncomfortable in the first half,” Jordan said. “They controlled us from the beginning. There comes a time when you just have to play and rely on your halfcourt defense. Right now our halfcourt defense just isn’t there. It hasn’t been good enough.”

Not when former Wizards like Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland come to MCI Center, shake off the boos and jeers of 14,799 spectators and look as if the Wizards made mistakes when they purged them.

Howard finished with 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Strickland, who turns 38 this summer, came off the bench to post 14 points and 10 assists.

Kwame Brown posed his sixth double-double of the season for the Wizards, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds. However, Brown did not score in the second half.

Larry Hughes, who missed the Wizards’ loss to Portland on Monday because of a flareup of tendinitis in his right knee, scored 21 points mostly because he made all 10 of his free throws while missing 12 of 17 shots from the floor. Juan Dixon, one game removed from scoring a career-high 30 against Portland, finished with 20 points.

None of these juicy numbers supplied by the young players really meant anything, though, especially after Orlando made 25 of 40 shots and built an 18-point lead in the second quarter.

And just as they did in losses against Boston and Portland, the Wizards got their bearings in the second half, this time closing within 83-78 early in the fourth quarter.

Later in the fourth, McGrady shut the door on the Wizards. He sank back-to-back baskets to re-establish the Magic lead at 100-90 with under two minutes left. The second score, a layup on an assist from Strickland, sent most fans to the doors.

“Both teams needed the win, but I imposed my will on the game to try to pull us out with a victory,” said McGrady. “We were up by 15, 20 points; they made a strong run. But we kept our composure.”

Earlier, McGrady opened the game by scoring the Magic’s first 12 points and 18 of their first 23.

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