ORLANDO, Fla. — Except for Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic are heading down the stretch of this season primarily with a group of players who have spent three or fewer years in the NBA.
That inexperience is going to show against teams such as the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards had to go through what the Magic are enduring now before becoming a playoff contender. Those hard lessons paid off for them Friday night when huge plays toward the end by John Wall, Bradley Beal and former Magic forward Trevor Ariza enabled the Wizards to pull out a 105-101 victory in overtime.
The Magic got 21 points off the bench from Tobias Harris and 15 points and six assists from Victor Oladipo. But they’re both still only 21 years old, which sometimes means they’re going to be caught in situations they wish they could take back.
It was Harris who Wall nailed his game-tying 3-point shot over with 10.6 seconds to go in regulation. And after coach Jacque Vaughn decided during the ensuing timeout to put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, the rookie missed a 3 from the top of the key over Ariza.
While Oladipo bounced back from that disappointment to nail a pair of jumpers in the first minute of overtime, the Wizards literally could not miss the rest of the way and sent the Magic to their fifth consecutive loss.
"Yeah, I would have changed that," Oladipo said of his miss with the score tied at 87. "Again, I know it sounds like I’ve been saying it a lot, but I need to learn how to make better plays in situations like that, especially when he’s trusting to put the ball in my hands."
"We wanted to put the ball in Vic’s hands," Vaughn said. "Good defense by Ariza. I think we probably would have liked a little bit more attack and a little bit more aggression, to see if the referees will call a foul or not. That’s part of us growing. We’ll put Vic in that position again."
The Wizards have plenty of experienced veterans in Wall, Ariza and Marcin Gortat, who used to back up Dwight Howard with the Magic. But the biggest play of the night may well have come from Beal, the second-year guard from Florida.
Beal’s hustle after a turnover by Wall resulted in him blocking a shot — only his 12th block all season — when it appeared Nelson was headed for a layup to put the Magic up 99-96. Ariza knocked down a 3 at the other end, and the Wizards never trailed thereafter.
"That was tough," Oladipo said. "Credit Bradley Beal for making a big play."
Added Harris, who played 32 minutes in his fourth game since Vaughn chose to start Kyle O’Quinn ahead of him at power forward: "The Wizards are a good team, and you could see that in the fourth quarter and overtime. They got something good on every possession that they had. For us to take that next step, that’s what we’re going to need."
The Wizards made all six of their shots after Oladipo’s baskets had given the Magic a 91-87 lead. They also went 4 of 4 from the line, a place which is becoming unfamiliar territory to the Magic.
The Magic shot only two free throws through the first three quarters, and one of those was the result of a technical foul against Wall. They wound up making eight of their 10 attempts and have now shot only 60 free throws in their last five games compared to 137 for their opponents.
"We can attack the basket a little bit more," Harris said. "You look at a team like the Wizards. They run a lot of pick-and-rolls with Gortat, and he’s rolling a lot and getting to the free-throw line. John Wall’s a slasher. They have great shooters on the floor to space. So I think that’s reason why they were able to get into the lane and get fouled."
"We’re trying to be more physical and aggressive on the defensive end," Vaughn said. "And with that, sometimes we’re going to get fouls called against us. I think what we have to learn and be smart about is having that aggression at the other end."
A failure to get a stop after playing much defense than they did Wednesday night against Denver. A tendency to settle for jump shots. Not getting a whistle after trying to get to the rim.
All those things add up.
"It’s painful. It hurts," Vaughn said. "But you learn from it."
"I know I feel and the guys in this locker room (feel) we should be in here enjoying that win," Harris said. "But we lost the game. It’s just a tough one."