- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Although it is still early in the season and hard to get a gauge on the Washington Wizards, it’s almost certain last year’s team would have lost to the Orlando Magic under similar circumstances last night.

The Wizards blew a 15-point lead late in the third quarter but survived to defeat Orlando 106-96 before 15,042 at MCI Center and improve their record to 3-2 — tied for their best mark after five games in 10 years.

“They don’t come easy — it was hard coming down the stretch,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We made some free throws and finally closed it out. We’ve got to get better.”

Washington was better this time, however, than in two previous losses to Miami, when the Wizards were a turnover machine. The challenge was to cut down on mistakes, create some of their own, and defend their basket better.

At the end of the night, all those missions had been accomplished.

In ending a four-game losing streak to the Magic, who swept the season series in 2003-04, the Wizards forced Orlando into a rough shooting night (37 of 92) and converted 20 turnovers into 25 points. They committed just 14 turnovers of their own, which the Magic converted into a mere seven points.

“It’s important to limit our mistakes,” said Wizards guard Larry Hughes, who tied teammate Antawn Jamison for game-high scoring honors with 26. “There are three things we try and do: score, play defense and keep our turnovers down. A lot of times we do [only] two out of the three, and it makes it hard for us. Tonight we did all three.”

To win, the Wizards, who led 71-56 after reserve forward Jarvis Hayes (15 points, four steals) drained a 19-footer, had to withstand the 19-0 Orlando run that followed.

In less than three minutes, the Wizards, who looked utterly confused by the Magic’s zone defense, went from looking like a team in control to a disorganized bunch that seemed determined to lose.

“There are some negatives and some positives that we can take away from this game,” Jamison said. “The negative is that when you’re up like that, you have to find a way to bury a team. But also we showed great composure as far as putting it behind us and finding a way to gut it out and get a win.”

Grant Hill, the Reston product who has been plagued by foot injuries in recent years, finished with a season-high 24 points for the Magic and also grabbed six rebounds. Former Maryland Terrapin Steve Francis finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Orlando, which played without injured starters Kelvin Cato (ankle) and Cuttino Mobley (groin).

In the fourth quarter, the Wizards held the Magic to just 6-for-20 shooting. With the game on the line, Orlando turned the ball over six times.

Washington, on the other hand, had just three turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Wizards made nine of 18 shots from the floor and converted 12 of 14 free throws in the period.

The Wizards appeared to have put the game out of reach when Jamison and Hughes converted back-to-back three-point plays to give Washington a 99-90 lead with 1:05 left. Pat Garrity (16 points) pulled Orlando within 103-96 with a running jump shot with 38.8 seconds to play, but the Magic did not score again.

“It was just a good game for us to win,” Jordan said. “We didn’t play very well against Miami in either of those loses. We put it together a little better tonight.”

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