- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

In preparing for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott and his team faced a “pick-your-poison” situation.

They could load up on the All-Star center, who traditionally feasts on the Wizards, and force his teammates to beat them. But that strategy frees up the Magic’s perimeter threats, and they rank second in the NBA in 3-pointers made.

And sure enough, the host Wizards did a commendable job on Howard but couldn’t account for his teammates, falling 112-103 on Friday night. Orlando, which boasted six scorers in double figures, shot 51 percent and made 12 3-pointers.

With the loss, the Wizards (15-51) remained winless in the Southeast Division (0-14). Orlando (48-17) improved to 4-0 against Washington and remained on Boston’s heels in the fight for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Mickael Pietrus led the Magic with 21 points - including five 3-pointers - 11 rebounds and six assists. Rashard Lewis added 19 points, and Howard tallied 18 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high seven assists.

“Going down the stat sheet, there are a lot of double-figure guys there,” Tapscott said. “They make you pay if you spend too much attention [on Howard]; they’ll get some shots. We said to the guys, they’ll hit some shots, they’re [one of] the best 3-point shooting teams in the league and they got up 34 3-pointers. … But it was the cat-and-mouse game we talked about before the game: when we would double, when we would take it off, when we would challenge Dwight. It was a real hard-fought game; I thought we gave a good effort.”

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with a season-high 36 points, and Nick Young came off the bench to record 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Dominic McGuire posted 10 points and seven rebounds, and backup point guard Javaris Crittenton added 10 points and seven assists. The Wizards were left short-handed when second-leading scorer Caron Butler left the game after the first half, hobbled by tightness in his left hamstring.

Butler - who turned 29 Friday - scored five points on 1-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes in the first half.

Despite Butler’s struggles, the Wizards played well in the first quarter and remained within reach at halftime. After trading leads with Orlando eight times, the Wizards took a 25-23 advantage with 1:51 remaining in the quarter. It was their last lead of the game; the Magic went on a 17-2 run to take a 40-27 lead.

The Wizards pulled within 54-50 when Jamison got an acrobatic layup to fall with 2:31 left in the first half, but the Magic’s lead swelled to 60-52 by halftime.

Young took Butler’s place at shooting guard to start the second half. And with his fellow captain done for the night, Jamison scored 16 third-quarter points to keep the Wizards in contention heading into the fourth.

Trailing 81-75, the Wizards opened the fourth with a 13-8 run and slashed the deficit to 89-88 with 8:04 left.

But the Magic got a burst from an unexpected source when Tony Battie came off the bench to score five straight points and backup guard Anthony Johnson added two for a 96-90 lead.

Jamison responded with a 3-pointer along the left sideline, but another Orlando reserve, J.J. Redick, hurt the Wizards. Howard caught the ball in the paint and zipped it out to an open Redick, who buried a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 99-93 with less than five minutes remaining.

A jump shot from JaVale McGee and a layup from Crittenton narrowed the Wizards’ deficit to 99-97 with 3:35 left, but Orlando sealed the win with 13-6 surge.

“It was a gutsy effort tonight by Washington,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought Jamison was terrific and Nick Young got some more chances to shoot the ball than when he does when Butler is playing. They played really well. I was not very happy with our defense. I didn’t even think that we came into the game with much focus defensively. I am disappointed in that, but I’m happy to have gotten the win.”

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