Wizards 92 - Magic 110
There were many questions that surrounded Gilbert Arenas's return to the Verizon Center for his first game against his former team. Will the crowd boo or cheer him? Will he revert back to old Gil’ and score 30? Will his return affect the play of his former teammates?
What was lost in that discussion was the real question of how Washington would stop All-Star Dwight Howard, who in their last meeting grabbed 11 rebounds and scored 32 points including a put back with a few seconds left to secure a 100-99 victory for the Orlando Magic.
Superman’s latest duel against the Wizards provided much of the same results. Howard matched his season average of 22 points and dominated the boards grabbing 15 rebounds after starting the game a perfect 10 for 10 from the field. Granted many of his shots were alley-oops and other easy looks in the paint, his final bucket however came with a fade away jumper from the left baseline that drew moans and groans from the home crowd.
After the game Wizards coach Flip Saunders acknowledged Howards performance but gave credit to the rest of the Magic for their ability to step up and play well even when the reigning defensive player of the year was not in the game.
“The situation as for as what (J.J.) Reddick (15 pts.) did, Ryan Anderson (19 pts.) did when the game was close…(Jason) Richardson (18 pts.) with the three’s those guys hit pushed it from a competitive game to game where they were able to close it out.”
Saunders went on talk about the performance of his starters, who fell behind by 14 points in the first quarter.
“Our bench was great tonight, our starters were terrible to start the game and they didn’t do a very good job in the third quarter. Booker was great. He had great energy, playing with a great amount of enthusiasm. Hinrich was great tonight.”
Reserves Trevor Booker and Kirk Hinrich came off the bench to give the Wizards the spark they needed to erase the defecit and lead by 2 points in the second quarter. Hinrich scored 17 points and had 5 assists on the night and Booker contributed with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks. Booker also had the highlight of the night with a thunderous slam over Magic forward Earl Clark.
Starting Center JaVale McGee, who only managed 2 points and 1 rebound, had his playing time drastically decreased in the teams' last game against Orlando because of foul trouble. Tonight he was designated to the bench for what Saunders referred to as "playing out of his role."
“He’s still got to mentally learn. Everyone in the arena does not like the fact that he gets the ball three-quarters court and thinks that he’s a 6’2” guard and starts dribbling. That’s understanding roles…your roll is like Dwight Howard, run to the rim and protect (the basket).”
Despite scoring a team-high 17 points, Nick Young also struggled in his first game against friend and mentor Gilbert Arenas. Arenas only scored 10 points but he filled the stat sheet dishing out 6 assists along with 6 rebounds. Though Arenas’s impact wasn’t that significant on the offensive end, his defensive effort on Young never allowed his former protégé to gain any momentum.
John Wall saw his on the court frustrations boil over when he was ejected with 2:56 left in the fourth quarter. He got two technical fouls in less than two minutes for arguing with the referees after the whistle. Wall scored 14 points to go with his 5 assists and 5 rebounds, but he struggled finding teammates in transition, mishandling the ball on three separate fast-break oppurtunities.
Another downplayed story line of the game was Rashard Lewis (14 pts.) playing against his former team. Lewis spent the last three seasons with the Magic before the December trade, but after the game it was clear that his mind was already on the second leg of a back-to-back home stand.
“We have to put that game behind us immediately, almost like right now as we speak. Now we have to be focused on Josh Smith, Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby. We have to get ready for those guys. If we come in thinking about the Orlando Magic, we’ll be facing another loss if we don’t get ourselves prepared for the Atlanta Hawks.”