- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

Welcome back to reality.

Two nights after responding to the firing of coach Eddie Jordan with an authoritative win over the Golden State Warriors, the Washington Wizards reverted back to their old ways of an unbalanced offensive attack, poor shooting and soft defense in a 105-90 loss to the visiting Orlando Magic on Thursday.

Just an hour before the game, coach Ed Tapscott warned that there was a chance a different Wizards squad would come out Thursday night because the emotion associated with Jordan’s dismissal had died off.

“Can we come out with focus and intensity when maybe the emotional pitch will be a little different?” Tapscott said. “Tonight will be more like a regular NBA game. … This will be our first step to what the season’s like.”

If that’s true, then the outlook for the rest of the way is not good.

Tapscott’s Wizards managed just two double-digit scorers, shot 42 percent from the field. They allowed four Magic players to score in double digits, gave up 44 points in the paint, got outscored 17-8 on second-chance points and committed 13 turnovers. They also shot 17.6 percent from 3-point range.

Caron Butler led Washington (2-11) with 25 points, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points and 12 rebounds. The rest of the Wizards’ starters combined for just 14 points.

Orlando (12-4) was without starting point guard Jameer Nelson (hip flexor) and sixth man Keith Bogans (fractured thumb). But it made no difference, because Dwight Howard dominated the Wizards for 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

It didn’t matter who Tapscott threw at the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard, who went 10-for-14 from the free throw line. The result was the same as centers JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila couldn’t avoid foul trouble while trying to guard the powerful Howard. Blatche, who finished with five points and five rebounds, fouled out. McGee finished with five fouls, and Thomas and Songaila had three apiece.

And Orlando got the usual solid performances from Howard’s sidekicks Hedo Turkoglu (20 points), Rashard Lewis (17) and Mickael Pietrus (17).

“We knew this is a pretty good team. They’ve won six straight games on the road. They’re a load,” Tapscott said. “They have a good rhythm now, they’re playing well and Dwight Howard is a force in the middle. His physicality got to us and we got into foul trouble early.”

Putting an end to what had been a positive trend of strong starts the last three games, the Wizards struggled in the first quarter, falling behind 10-7 in the first 2 1/2 minutes of play. They had no answer for Howard, who scored six of his team’s first 10 points, and went on to grab nine rebounds in the first nine minutes of the game.

“They ran just about anything they wanted to,” Jamison said. “To me, it’s embarrassing when they’re shooting free throws and they’re letting you know what play they’re running. They’re calling out their plays - ‘We’re running this’ - and loud. I told our guys it’s embarrassing for them to not even try to hide it. We’ve got to find a way to play with some pride because night in and night out, teams right now can just defend us.”

Orlando led 31-15 with 2:32 left in the first before the Wizards managed a strong finish. Butler scored eight consecutive points as the quarter came to a close, and the momentum carried over into the second. The Wizards went on a 9-0 run in the first two minutes of that quarter thanks to consecutive jumpers from Darius Songaila, a three-point play from Antonio Daniels and a fade-away from Butler that pulled his team within 38-34 and forced a Magic timeout.

Orlando slowly but steadily re-established a double-digit lead down the stretch of the quarter, however, and led 55-44 at halftime.

The Magic opened the third with a 16-5 run, extending their lead to 22 points. The margin hovered there for the remainder of the game before the Wizards made a final push in garbage time.

“Once again, it’s back to the drawing board,” Jamison said. “We knew there was still a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got to still create energy, do it on the defensive end first, then offensively do it, move the ball. That’s what we have to work with now.”

Note- Daniels returned to action after missing the last three games and six of the last eight with soreness and swelling in his right knee. Dee Brown remained the starter, however, and Daniels played 20 minutes and finished with five points and five assists.

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