Magic hope momentum on their side vs. Wizards
John Wall and the Washington Wizards spawned nightmares for the Orlando Magic the last three years.
The two division rivals play each other four times each season and each time the Washington Wizards have come out on top. The Wizards have beaten the Magic in every way imaginable, it seems, in that stretch.
Some of that is understandable of course. The Magic were a rebuilding team with young players not quite ready to win and far out of the playoff race. And the Wizards were a team thinking about advancing in the playoffs or just outside the playoff picture.
They get their first crack at one of their primary torturers Saturday night at Amway Center in Orlando. It is a game players who have been on the Magic for multiple years know carries some importance.
"They beat the (heck) out of us the last two years," Magic guard Evan Fournier said after practice Friday. "They always beat us the same way, playing physical, punking us. No way is it going to happen again tomorrow."
Fournier and the Magic have suffered their bad beats to the Wizards. But confidence is at a high after gutting out two straight wins following a disappointing 0-3 start to the season.
Slowly but surely the Magic are building a defensive identity and eking out wins with that defense and transition game.
Against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, the Magic used energy from defensive plays by Bismack Biyombo and used a 16-point defensive fourth quarter to secure a win over the Sacramento Kings. It was the second straight game the Magic held an opponent to less than 20 points in the final quarter to pick up the win.
That could spell trouble for the Washington Wizards, who have struggled to score throughout the season. The Wizards ranked 21st in the league in offensive rating, scoring 98.6 points per 100 possessions, entering Friday's 95-92 home win over the Atlanta Hawks. That is only slightly better than the Magic.
Washington though knows it is better than it has played so far this season.
"We know we're better than 0-3," Wizards guard Bradley Beal told The Washington Post. "I feel like we should be 3-0 right now, but we gave up some tough games. The crazy thing is we know what we're doing wrong. It's just a matter of us just doing it."
The Wizards started to right the ship it seems with a 29-16 second quarter that gave them a lead large enough to hold onto in the second half Friday against the Hawks. Bradley Beal scored 28 points and John Wall scored 21, but the two combined to shoot 13 for 33 from the floor. The team shot 38.8 percent from the field overall.
Wall is still one of the most dangerous players in the league, particularly in the open floor. And that gives them a chance.
But the Wizards have lost their defensive edge -- their 112.1 points allowed per 100 possessions is the worst in the league entering Friday's action -- and they may have lost that physicality the Magic have struggled with for the last three years.
Now it seems Orlando has all the momentum and a chance to fight back in this divisional series as the two teams meet at Amway Center in Orlando on Saturday.