- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. | The 89-80 loss to the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena on Tuesday night left the Washington Wizards wondering, “What if?”

As in what if, after tying Orlando early in the first, they had maintained their momentum instead of missing eight of their last 11 shots in the quarter?

Or what if they had scored more than a franchise-worst six points in the second, a quarter in which they went without a point in the last eight minutes, missed 14 straight shots and turned the ball over six times en route to a 46-30 halftime deficit?

And what if Caron Butler - who scored all 29 of his points in the second half - had scored before halftime? Or what if the Wizards had corralled Magic point guard Jameer Nelson instead of letting him score six points down the stretch of the game?

“We put ourselves in the grave in the second quarter and in the third quarter kind of dug ourselves out,” Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said. “But when you have those real big lulls where you get down double digits, so much energy is expended that when you break even, that’s generally where they make their run. Every time we pulled close, they’d run a little spurt. We really hurt ourselves in the second quarter and didn’t have enough time, didn’t have enough energy to get back.”

During the woeful first half, a frustrated Butler couldn’t find a comfort level - crediting his former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy for finding ways to take him out of the game.

But in the third, Tapscott called Butler’s number on the first two plays to help him get into a rhythm.

Butler scored three minutes into the third when he knocked down a jump shot and drew a foul on Nelson. Butler converted the three-point play and on his next trip down the court cut the lead to 50-40 with a pull-up jumper over Courtney Lee.

It marked the beginning of a sizzling 12 minutes for Butler, who scored 21 of his team’s 33 third-quarter points on 8-for-10 shooting. The 21 points are the most in a quarter in franchise history, surpassing a 20-point third quarter by Gilbert Arenas in a 112-96 win over Indiana on March 14, 2007.

“Nothing changed in the second half,” said Lee, who defended Butler for much of the second half. “He was having his mentality right, and he was just able to elevate and shoot over [me] uncontested.”

And though his surge helped the Wizards (7-26) narrow the deficit to 70-63 heading into the fourth, Butler’s magic ended when he missed three of his next four shots.

The Magic (26-8) re-established their double-digit lead, going up 75-63 on a 3-pointer by J.J. Redick 40 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Washington eventually mustered a charge to cut the lead to 83-80 with 1:18 left on Butler’s final points. Then time began working against the Wizards, who had to foul to stop the clock.

“We came in here and played well against one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference and one of the better teams in the league,” Butler said. “But if we can continue to play like this, our goal is to go every three-game segment 2-1 and get back to .500. Tonight, we left it out there, fell a little short, but we have another challenge [Wednesday] against Toronto.”

Center Andray Blatche, who had started the last 10 games, was replaced in the starting lineup by Darius Songaila because of a “team matter,” Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said.

The coach wouldn’t get into more detail, but it likely stemmed from a temper tantrum Blatche threw after being taken out late in Sunday’s game against Cleveland. Blatche was heard and seen yelling at the coach before being rebuked by teammates and banished to the end of the bench.

Despite the twist at center, the Wizards contained Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who in the Magic’s two blowouts of Washington this season averaged 28.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. Howard finished with a less painful 15 points and 16 rebounds.

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