Magic snap skid with 109-103 win over Wizards
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By KYLE HIGHTOWER
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The Orlando Magic came into Wednesday night playing dangerously poor basketball. For the losers of four straight games, injuries were mounting and morale was falling daily.
Thankfully for the Magic, they got a visit from a Washington Wizards team that was struggling even more and hadn't won in Amway Center for a long time. Minus a few late scares, Orlando found the remedy it was looking for in the form of a 109-103 victory.
Ryan Anderson scored 23 points, including six 3-pointers, to help the Magic end their skid and earn their eighth straight win over the Wizards, which dropped to just 1-9 on the road.
As good as it felt to win Anderson said afterward that no one in the Magic locker room feels like they are completely out of their funk.
"I think we need to look to the next game and bring the same effort and energy," he said. "We didn't want to focus too much on that streak because that's a week we'd all like to forget. Those games we'd all like to forget about and we can move forward and get a win next game and just start a little run.
"This started our confidence, but we need to follow through with it."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has harped on taking care of the ball and limiting mistakes in the half-court offense.
After struggling with turnovers throughout their recent skid, the Magic settled down after a rocky first half to commit just four in the final 24 minutes, while moving the ball wall in their sets to get Anderson and others open looks at the basket.
The night went so well that Howard, who also had his 17th double-double of the season with 18 rebounds, even was productive at the free-throw line going 11 for 16.
There were still some moments that reeked of the streak, like first-half turnovers that resulted from the Magic struggling to get the ball up the floor. Those fundamental things are what coach Stan Van Gundy said is where his focus remains to put his team back on track.
"It's frustrating to me as a coach because I can't figure out what we're doing wrong," Van Gundy said. "That hard thing tonight was we couldn't run anything. We couldn't get into our offense with their pressure.
"I thought our composure was fine, we're just struggling to take care of the ball."
The Wizards trailed by just a point entering the fourth quarter and stayed close before the Magic took an 87-77 lead with 5:56 to play on a one-handed dunk by Howard in the post over JaVale McGee.
Howard ran down the court after the play and pointed toward Quentin Richardson before the two bumped chests.
It was a rare moment of celebration or levity for a team that had so very few of them during its skid.
"He really uplifts everybody," Anderson said. "When that exciting play happens, everybody kind of looks to Dwight to see where his reaction is. When he's excited and he's motivated, he's the one that we call kind of look to."
Washington, which had 12 3-pointers of its own, got to 104-100 with 34.8 to play, but the Magic were able to close it out at the free-throw line.
After coasting through the opening minutes during most of its recent losing skid, Orlando picked up its offense in the first half Wednesday and led by four at the break. But many of its recent headaches in its half-court offense persisted early on.
The Magic were up 11 points at one point. They also committed 11 turnovers, though, often leading to layups on the other end for the Wizards.
Washington used a 16-5 spurt to begin the second quarter to take a 36-30 lead before a 14-2 run by Orlando, which included three straight 3-pointers, nudged the Magic back in front.
"I told our guys `we can't stop playing as hard as we do,'" Wizards coach Randy Witmann said. "We've got nine guys under rookie contracts. Right now they're not getting the respect. That'll come."
Veteran Rashard Lewis said there has been a definite mentality change since Wittman took over five games ago following Flip Saunders firing.
"At the beginning of the season we'd always hang our heads," Lewis said. "...But recently we keep playing hard even when teams make runs. We don't give up until the end of the game...We have to take baby steps and take it one day at a time."
Howard said the past is the past for the Magic now.
"It happens to everybody in the league and we just have to continue to remind ourselves that we're a good team and we're going to have rough patches. We just have to stay together and remember we can't allow anything to separate us."
NOTES: The Magic waived G Larry Hughes after the game. Hughes appeared in nine games. His contract would have been guaranteed for the rest of the season on Feb. 10. Orlando's roster now stands at 14 players. ...Howard was whistled for his sixth technical of the year in the third quarter. ... Washington has lost 48 of its last 52 games on the road. ... Magic PG Jameer Nelson missed his third straight game with concussion-like symptoms and SG Jason Richardson was out his second consecutive game resting a bruised left knee.
Updated February 1, 2012