"They out-played us tonight," said Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy. He added, "You'll hear coaches say this but it could not have been more true tonight, we absolutely stole a game. I thought they played with a lot more energy than we did in the second half."
Van Gundy is correct, however, the Wizards dug themselves a 12 point hole in the first half against the first place team in the Southeastern division - and arguably one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, currently. The hole that the Wizards dug revolved more around their cold shooting and mistakes then it was about their effort. The Wizards appeared to put forth the effort from the opening tip. "In the first half Kirk didn't make any shots [and] Gil was 2 for 13," said Flip Saunders. The Wizards, particularly when John Wall is not on the floor, do not get easy shots. So when its shots aren't falling they must find a way to keep the game close with their defensive effort. And that is a task that is easier said than done when you have one of the most physically imposing Centers on the floor, Dwight Howard - who is currently averaging 23 and 12.
Part of the Wizards strategy was to send Dwight Howard to the line before he could make easy shots. "We wanted to wrap Howard up and not let him get layups," said Flip Saunders. And send him to the line they did, unfortunately the fouls on a few occasions were not either hard enough or soon enough as he went to the line on multiple occasions with the opportunity to earn a three point play. Throughout the game the Wizards sent multiple bodies at Howard - JaVale McGee, Hilton Armstrong, Kevin Seraphin and Andray Blatche. McGee's night was limited as he got into early foul trouble, picking up his first foul nearly 20 seconds into the game.
In the second half, Kirk Hinrich said it best, "Gilbert got hot. Nick got hot." The Wizards lead by the scoring of Gilbert Arenas (31 points) and Nick Young (21 points) were able to get back into the game, and nearly win it. And as impressive as Arenas' total is, just as impressive was how unstoppable Nick Young was during the fourth quarter. "I felt like I was in the zone and that I could hit every shot," said Young. And during that stretch, regardless of who the Magic matched-up against him it appeared he could. Stan Van Gundy credited the Wizards second half surge to its defense and "Arenas and Nick Young took us apart in the second half."
Following the game Nick Young was asked about his role coming off the bench, he responded by saying, "I'm just going out there with confidence. My teammates believe in me, my coaches believe in me and I believe in me more than anything." And whether he is starting or coming off of the bench, if Nick Young continues to play like this he will be an extremely valuable member of Wizards organization.
Arenas, who is averaging a respectable 17.7 points per game through the early part of this season, is beginning to get his scoring touch back. So far he has five 20+ scoring nights, which includes two 30+ nights this month. He has, however, not yet regained probably the signature part of his game... the late game heroics. And in this game the difference between an exhilarating victory and a crushing defeat was a few inches, but the shot was taken by the Wizards player who has the most experience at taking and making big shots, Gilbert Arenas. The fact that the team was even in a position to win this game is a testament to how well they played in the second half.
"We competed, we fell behind, we fought back unlike we did in Atlanta. So we moved the ball better at times. We played with more confidence at times. It's disappointing we didn't get the win because [you would like] to have the win for the positive reinforcement," said Flip Saunders. If this team can find a way to compete like this for the entire game, every game, they will be an exciting team to watch.
"We felt like we played hard enough to win", said Gilbert Arenas. "We have to take away this momentum and play against the Heat."
- JaVale McGee - On a night in which Dwight Howard had one of his best nights of the season (32 points, 11 rebounds, 3 TOs and 2 blocks), JaVale McGee clearly provided the Wizards with their best option for defending against him. Howard clearly has a strength advantage against McGee, but McGee's quickness and length keep allow him to rebound and defend. McGee who was limited by fouls finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 26:11 minutes of play. After the game, Howard said about McGee, "I thought he played great... I love his energy though, he's just got to keep working and he'll get there." It also must be noted that McGee is doing a much better job boxing out and getting back to the basket to get in position to rebound.
- Alonzo Gee - starting in place of the injured Al Thornton, Gee played his most significant minutes of his young NBA career (30:02) since his last stint with the Wizards last season in which he played 32 minutes against Charlotte. Once again he showed flashes of his talent and athleticism and finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals.
- Andray Blatche - Had another double-double, finishing the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Most impressive was that 10 of his rebounds were on the defensive glass. What is clear is that Andray Blatche can rebound when he decides to rebound. Blatche still has a tendency to float away from the basket rather than crash the boards, but this type of performance is one to build off of.
- Kevin Seraphin - Played his most extensive minutes (9:51) in a non-blowout game. He finished with 4 points, 1 rebound and 1 blocked shot. However, he also displayed that he is one of the more physical players on the Wizards as he laid a body on Howard and Gortat when he was on the floor. It was refreshing seeing a Wizards player through some weight around. Also, Seraphin does a better job than most of the Wizards bigs of using his body to shield his man from making a defensive play (he did this against Howard in the first half). This will not show up on the stats sheet but is often the difference between a made basket and potentially a blocked shot.
- Trevor Booker - While not playing John Wall-type of minutes, he is averaging nearly 11 minutes per game. He finished with a modest line of 2 points and 3 rebounds, but always manages to bring a physical presence when he is on the court.