Coming into this game, there were so many ways that one could have imagined a back-breaking loss. After all, the Wizards had lost their last four road games, and hadn't exactly been tearing it up at home either. If it weren't for some late-game heroics, we might be looking at an extended losing streak.
Tonight, however, we saw what this team is really capable of when they play their best ball. Orlando's not a bad team, especially at home, where they had been 14-6. They didn't have Trevor Ariza, but with Dwight Howard, Grant Hill, Jameer Nelson, and a host of solid role players, they traditionally give the Wizards trouble. Despite this, the Wizards scored at will on them in the second half, and they shockingly dominated the glass (50-38) in a big win.
It's hard to believe that I was lamenting the Wizards' inability to put games away just the other day. When the Wizards entered the fourth quarter with an 8 point lead, they not only extended it, but they did so with a swift 20-8 run. That's how you put a good team away.
Everything was working well tonight. The Wizards only turned the ball over 7 times, and they outrebounded the Magic by an astounding 23-7 margin on the offensive glass. They had nearly as many offensive rebounds as the Magic had defensive rebounds (31). They forced Magic players not named Dwight Howard or Grant Hill into a miserable 18-54 shooting. In short, it was a fantastic defensive effort.
Offensively, it was just as good. The Wizards hit 50 percent of their threes and got good contributions off the bench from Etan Thomas and Antonio Daniels. Eddie Jordan, perhaps listening to our pleas, played Jarvis Hayes only 9 minutes, riding the hot hand of Antawn Jamsion, who had his best game of the season. Gilbert Arenas was solid and efficient, Caron Butler was as well, and the rest of the team had good games. It was a strong and satisfying win for the team.
The bigger question could be whether this win is effectively a kill shot for the pesky Magic, who have lost four straight. Ivan Carter speculates as to whether this win may prove to be metaphoric for the Magic.
Anyway, first place in the East never felt so good. Wtih a hobbled Boston coming to the phonebooth tonight, it should mean another victory, but the Wizards have slipped up in similar games against Denver and New Orleans this year. No matter what happens tonight, yesterday's win was about as good as it gets.