- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

This was not the way Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan figured to spend his 50th birthday.

Not with the Wizards being resilient all season, beating opponents that toyed with them in the past, and because of the way they lost to the same Orlando Magic team the night before.

So much for birthday wishes. For the second straight game, poor free-throw shooting cost the Wizards as they fell to the Magic 103-97 last night before a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.

The Wizards (26-17) saw their eight-game home winning streak snapped because they missed 14 of 45 free throws. And none was more costly than the two Brendan Haywood missed with 18.6 seconds to play and Orlando leading 99-97.

“The first one slipped,” Haywood, a 62 percent free-throw shooter, said of his air ball. “The second one, I wanted to make it too badly. I wish I had hit them because it definitely would have helped us out, but I didn’t.”

The Wizards fell behind by 11 points in the first half and trailed by 10 in the third quarter. But they have won nine games this season after trailing by 10 or more points, and it looked as if that might be the case again when Gilbert Arenas (37 points, six assists, eight rebounds, four steals) sank a pair of free throws that put Washington ahead 93-92 with 2:14 left in the game.

That was the Wizards’ first lead since 27-26 with 9:09 left in the first quarter, and it even appeared the free-throw problems had been smoothed because they made 12 straight before Haywood stepped to the line in the waning seconds.

Orlando did what it had to in order to win the game. When Arenas fouled Doug Christie (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) with 16.8 seconds to play, he sank both shots. Fouled again with 11.2 remaining, Christie ensured the victory by hitting two more.

“Maybe we will fall under the radar a little bit,” Jordan said of the Wizards’ lost weekend. “Certainly we can work harder and give more effort. We can concentrate better and get a lot more focused and more disciplined.

“They just took it to us,” Jordan said of the Magic (24-19). “They were a better team than us over the last two games — it’s obvious. No excuses. They just gave us a good [butt] kicking.”

Arenas felt no need to point the finger of blame at Haywood, who finished with three points and five rebounds in 23 minutes — especially after he himself missed two of seven free throws in the final 2:07 the night before in a 108-101 loss in Orlando.

“We had our games where everything we did went our way, and the last two games it didn’t,” Arenas said. “We play 82 games, and you are going to have some fall in and fall out. You just have to be professional and come back and keep playing. You can’t win them all. You just have to live with [the defeats].”

The Wizards didn’t help their cause with horrid shooting from the floor (30-for-82, or 37 percent). And while Arenas was 13-for-13 from the line this time and broke the 30-point barrier for the sixth time in seven games, other Wizards struggled.

Antawn Jamison finished with 18 points and four rebounds but made just six of 21 shots. Jarvis Hayes finished with 11 points and five rebounds but was just 4-for-12 from the floor.

Orlando got huge nights from All-Stars Steve Francis (32 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and Grant Hill (27 points, six rebounds). Rookie Dwight Howard, the top pick in last summer’s draft out of high school, posted 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

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