Fresh off a promising win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Wizards (3-7 entering the game) traveled to Orlando where they looked to end their 3-game road trip on a high note. The Magic were without their best defensive player in Jonathan Isaac, who missed his second straight game with an ankle sprain.
The Magic (5-7 entering the game), a team with playoff aspirations, have sputtered a bit out the gate. As we know, the Wizards are in a developmental year with a focus on changing their team culture and building up their young prospects.
Despite a strong comeback effort that saw the Wizards cut a double-digit lead to 1 late in the 4th, the Magic were able to pull out a 125-121 win, as issues that have plagued the Wizards throughout the season reared their ugly head again.
Fultz had his way
Markelle Fultz has a reputation for his inability to shoot the ball from distance. The Wizards dared him to shoot the ball by leaving him wide open early on. Fultz made them pay, draining 2 early threes, which allowed him to get into a rhythm that would ultimately prove costly for the Wiz. Fultz went on to start 6/6 from the field for 14 points, which set a great tone for the Magic in the first half.
Fultz capped off a career night with a steal and an “and-1” slam late in the 4th to close out the Wizards. He finished with 19 points on 8-10 shooting.
We mentioned in our Game Preview article, that the Fultz vs. Isaiah Thomas matchup was one to watch, and the Magic were able to get the better end of this duel, with Fultz having perhaps the best game of his career against Thomas and the Wiz.
Defensive woes continue
To say the Wizards have struggled mightily on defense so far this season would be an understatement. Quite frankly, they’ve been atrocious on that end of the floor.
The troubling part is that nothing about their defense looks promising. The Magic are far from an offensive juggernaut, but the Wiz made them look like a very potent offensive team. Fultz, Fournier, and Vucevic, essentially got any look they wanted, as the Wizards swiss cheese defense had leaks in every which way.
The Wizards consistently left shooters open on the perimeter and the Magic took advantage knocking in 15 shots from deep. While that may not seem like a lot of threes in today’s NBA, the Wiz always seem to have a missed coverage at the least opportune times. This allowed the Magic to knock in momentum-halting threes as the Wizards pushed for a comeback, especially late in the fourth.
Pick-and-roll defense remains underwhelming as well. Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura were often out of position during Orlando pick-and-roll plays, allowing guys like Mo Bamba, Vucevic, and Gordon to get clean looks at the rim.
Beal does it all
Beal went off for 34 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. At this point, we expect these types of nights from “the Big Panda.” He can score in any way he desires, and his three-ball was clicking tonight as he went 5 of 10 from range. He hit some big shots down the stretch during the Wizards comeback push, but his efforts weren’t enough to get the Wizards the win.
Over the past 3 or 4 games, Beal has clearly made an effort to drive more and attack in the midrange instead of forcing up shots from deep. He’s been rewarded with more efficiency and big stat-lines.
The Magic had no answer to slowing down Beal, but then again most teams don’t. The Wizards need Beal to keep leading the way, despite the ups and downs the Wizards will continue to face throughout the season.
The second unit gave the Wizards some needed pop
While I think the Wiz would be wise to move IT back into the bench unit, Ish Smith and the rest of the second unit gave the Wizards some needed pop tonight, as the starters sputtered a bit.
Bertans and Wagner both gave the Wiz a lift, chipping in a combined 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists while knocking in 7 threes. Their ability to both rebound and stretch the floor gives the Wizards an advantage against many other second units around the league. The Magic’s bigs struggled to defend those guys when they were around the perimeter hoisting up threes.
Forward CJ Miles had his best game as a Wizard, so far, knocking in 6 threes and adding 21 total points off the bench.
Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant struggled
As expected, young players in the NBA will struggle from time to time. While Bryant was able to put up decent stats, 14 points & 6 rebounds, he largely didn’t have a major impact on the game.
For some reason, Bryant is often camped out too far away from the basket than preferred. Bryant was at most his effective last season when he was running rim and focused on getting easy shots around the rim. He needs to get back to that. While shots from mid-range and the perimeter are important, it’s not his greatest strength.
Rui has struggled a bit of late, but it’s no major cause for concern. Often Rui kind of goes missing out there. In 28 minutes, Rui only shot the ball 7 times knocking in 3 for 6 points. The Wizards need to do a better job running sets to get him involved. Getting him some looks early on would be beneficial to him and the team overall.
The Wizards (3-8) look to get back on track at home against San Antonio (5-8) on Wednesday at 7:00 pm.