- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

Less than a day removed from a loss to All-NBA point guard Chris Paul and his New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards had to turn their attention to stopping another superstar.

Center Dwight Howard anchors the Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic, who visit Verizon Center on Friday. The three-time All-Star has averaged 24.0 points, 15.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in three games against the Wizards - all wins - this season.

Not exactly rest for the weary.

“Let me see, we go from Chris Paul to Dwight Howard. Somehow it doesn’t seem easier,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We just move to a different position on the floor. Same type of superlative skill and athletic ability. It still changes your dynamic quite a bit.”

The Wizards tried playing Paul one-on-one, and he torched whomever Tapscott stuck on him. When Washington shifted its strategy to loading up on Paul, he found open teammates for easy baskets.

Howard sets up camp in the post, but he has a similar disorienting effect on opposing teams. If foes try to double-team him, he dishes to one of the Magic’s sharpshooters on the perimeter. If they match up individually, Howard will overpower them in the post.

“Today we worked on a number of defensive tricks to try to keep the ball out of his hands or if he gets it to try to get it out of his hands,” Tapscott said. “But they do such a good job playing four-around-one, and they have very good 3-point shooting, so they make it difficult for you. You kinda pick your poison. You hope they have an off shooting night, and then you can focus on Dwight a little more.”

The Wizards have lost to the Magic by an average of 16.3 points a game this season, but Washington has improved in each outing. They fell by 25 the first meeting, 15 the second and nine points the third meeting.

“I thought we played great the last time down in Orlando,” said Caron Butler, who scored 29 points in the Wizards’ 89-80 loss on Jan. 6 at Amway Center. “We made a valiant effort down the stretch and a couple shots just didn’t go our way. “We just need to play hard. It’s another opportunity to get a win.”

With one game apiece against Orlando, Charlotte and Miami remaining this season, Washington will try to avoid becoming the first team in NBA history to go winless in its division. But divisional woes don’t serve as extra motivation, the Wizards say.

“You can come up with a lot of things that will put up an extra sense of urgency for us this season,” center Darius Songaila said. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it that way. The next game is always the most important for us, so we just have to come out play hard, have some fun and see what happens.”

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