The Orlando Magic dominated the Washington Wizards in a 105-90 victory at Verizon Center on Thursday. But statistically, the Wizards improved in some areas. Two-time All-Star center Dwight Howard again was a beast in the paint, but Orlando outrebounded Washington only 49-46. The Wizards also increased their assist output and cut down on turnovers.
However, offensive imbalance again crippled the Wizards: No starter other than All-Star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison scored in double digits. The team's other three starters - JaVale McGee, DeShawn Stevenson and Dee Brown - combined for 14 points. Only reserve forward/center Darius Songaila (12 points) provided anything resembling a spark.
That has been a debilitating trend for the Wizards. Butler is averaging 21.7 points and Jamison is chipping in 20.4, but no other starter averages more than McGee's 8.8. Young has scored 12.4 points off the bench but has struggled late in games. Stevenson has averaged 8.0 points on 32 percent shooting; in the past three years combined, he averaged 11.1 points and shot 44 percent.
Opponents often double-team Butler and Jamison to force one of their teammates to beat them - and the strategy is working. Last week in Atlanta, with the Wizards trying to force a tie with less than a minute left, the Hawks collapsed on Butler and Jamison, leaving Juan Dixon to rush a midrange jumper. He misfired and Young gathered the rebound but missed his putback. The Hawks rebounded Young's miss and made a 3-pointer to seal the win.
And against Orlando on Thursday, the Wizards fell short by 15 points, not a large deficit for one or two players to make up. But the Wizards - minus Jamison and Butler's numbers - shot a combined 38 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range.
Interim coach Ed Tapscott said he and the players need to find a remedy quickly.
"We need to spread the defense, because when the defense collapses in on our two forwards, it makes it difficult for them," Tapscott said. "So we need some guard play to spread the defense. We'll keep shooting in practice."
Stevenson has played through a hamstring injury, but Tapscott said he expects the veteran to break out of his slump.
"He plays hard, he's got veteran savvy, he's going to give you effort on the boards," Tapscott said. "Some days, you just don't make your shots. It goes in trends. Maybe what we need to do is get him a layup, so the rim gets bigger. He'll come out of it. He's not the only one struggling."
In the meantime, the coach will look to Songaila, Young and Andray Blatche to try to pick up the slack. Butler said he and Jamison need to continue attacking in hopes that their performances will set the tone. Jamison said finding ways to build teammates' confidence will help, too.
"We need everybody to play smart, but the most important thing is, we have to trust those guys," he said. "If the double-team comes, I'm going to kick it out and I'm going to expect you to make that shot. I'm not going to expect you to make every shot, but I do think we need to relay that to them - that we do trust them and we need them to get it done."
Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Verizon Center
TV/radio: CSN, ESPN 980
Probable starters: Hawks - F Zaza Pachulia, F Marvin Williams, C Al Horford, G Joe Johnson, G Mike Bibby. Wizards - F Caron Butler, F Antawn Jamison, C JaVale McGee, G DeShawn Stevenson, G Dee Brown.
Injuries: Wizards - Day to day: G Antonio Daniels (knee); Out: C Brendan Haywood (wrist), G Gilbert Arenas (knee). Hawks - Out: F Josh Smith (ankle), G Speedy Claxton (hamstring).
Outlook: The Wizards seek to avenge last week's 91-87 loss at Atlanta. In that game, Washington blew a four-point lead with 1:05 to go, giving up three 3-pointers down the stretch. Pachulia (18 rebounds) dominated Washington on the boards. As a team, the Hawks outrebounded the Wizards 58-40 - and Horford was injured in that game. He's back in the lineup, so the Wizards have that challenge to deal with.
- Mike Jones