Bradley Beal scored or assisted on Washington last 13 points to help the Wizards escape with a 95-91 win over the Orlando Magic in a challenging game on the second night of a back-to-back. Jeff Green helped the cause with a season-high 24 points against his former team, including the winning layup in the final minute of the game.
Washington took a much different approach to the Magic after facing the defending champs the night before. They fired away from deep early and often against Golden State, but decided to focus on taking it to the rim early against Orlando. Green made that plan clear to everyone in Orlando on the opening possession of the game with a emphatic dunk on Jonathan Isaac.
Washington worked hard to get several good looks in the paint early, while only taking 6 threes in the first quarter.
Orlando took a similar approach out of necessity, hammering it inside to Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. The Magic scored 22 of their first 29 points in the paint to keep things close through the first 18 minutes of the half.
The Wizards finally took it outside late in the half when they went with a small lineup featuring Green at center. He led the charge outside, connecting on three triples in the final four minutes of the half. His shooting opened things for Otto Porter who hit a pair of threes during the same stretch after missing his first five shots of the game. The 15-5 run gave the Wizards a 12-point cushion at halftime.
The Wizards kept Orlando at an arm’s length for most of the third quarter, but then the fatigue set in for Washington on the second night of a back-to-back. The offense sputtered while Terrence Ross scored 14 points as part of a 22-7 run to whittle the Wizards’ 18-point lead down to 3.
Suddenly, Washington was in danger of losing the game and dropping to 11th in the East standings. It was a run that had the potential to be a turning point for the game and the season.
The Wizards needed Bradley Beal to rise to the occasion and put the team on his back, and that’s exactly what he did. He re-entered the game with 8:20 left and went right to work on Orlando’s defense. Beal made three unassisted shots in three minutes, including a daring shot over Mo Bamba that forced the Magic to take a timeout.
The Magic wouldn’t go away easily, however. Orlando continued to control the paint and took a 91-89 lead on a Vucevic layup with 1:37 left. Beal responded on the other end by taking it right to the heart of the Orlando defense to tie it back up.
Then, after Vucevic missed a pair of free throws, Beal found Green for a layup with 42.8 seconds left that proved to be the deciding basket after Washington forced back-to-back turnovers to shut the door for good.
With the win, Washington improves to 21-27 on the season. They now sit 1.5 games ahead of the Magic, and a half-game behind the Pistons for ninth.
The Wizards’ interior is still a big mess
This game was the latest reminder that Washington’s big man rotation still isn’t tenable. Thomas Bryant had his moments — both good and bad — but he isn’t ready to be the full solution at this point. Ian Mahinmi produced about as much as you could hope in this game. He had 6 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes of action and Washington was a +2 with him on the floor. In spite of all that, the Wizards were out-rebounded 52-38 and gave up 60 points in the paint.
The team can get away with playing Jeff Green and Otto Porter at center here and there to get teams to take their big men out of the game, but Washington needs something more to get a solid 48 minutes of production at center. They can’t rely on going 15-of-27 from deep like they did in this game to bail themselves out.
Otto is still in a slump
A night after arguably his worst career shooting performance, Porter followed things up by going 3-of-12 from the field, although two of his made shots were from deep. The Magic and Warriors don’t have a lot in common, but they both have long, athletic frontcourts that can bother Porter more than most teams. We’ll see if more teams try to counter Porter’s shift to a sixth-man role by using bigger defenders to take him out of his rhythm.
Next up: The Wizards are off to face the Spurs on Sunday at 7 pm in pursuit of their first win in San Antonio since 1999.