ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — It’s clear the Orlando Magic are playing for next year, and Friday night was the first of what they hope will be some good signs during the season’s final weeks.
Orlando was up and down against the Washington Wizards, but when it came time to decide things, defense and some clutch offense from second-year forward Tobias Harris produced a 97-92 win for the Magic.
Harris scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Magic break an eight-game losing streak. Harris stopped Washington runs on at least four occasions during the game with timely shots. That included a 15-foot floater with 1:22 left in the game to put Orlando ahead 93-88 and three of four from the free throw line in the final 14 seconds that sealed the victory.
“Tonight was a good step for me,” said Harris, who came to Orlando from Milwaukee at the trade deadline. “There have been times since being in a Magic uniform that I’ve struggled to close out games, but you’ve got to be ready when the opportunity comes and I took advantage of it.”
The Magic started Harris, three rookies — Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones — and eight-year veteran Jameer Nelson, who left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return.
Harkless scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while second-year man E’Twaun Moore had 15 and rookie Andrew Nicholson scored 14.
“This was just a great effort by every player who stepped on the floor,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ve been through a lot of games like this and lost, but tonight, we made free throws, we executed our offense and when we didn’t make shots, we defended. That gave us a chance to stay in the game.”
The Wizards, by contrast, didn’t get much of anything from anyone other than John Wall and Martell Webster. Wall led Washington with 35 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Webster was the only other Wizard in double figures, scoring 19.
“I don’t think anybody had a good performance,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “Over and over again this year we just go through the motions against teams like this and it costs you.”
“They won the game in the first half,” Wall said. “They did whatever they wanted and got confidence. Whenever we fought back, they still had the confidence they could get the lead back.”
It was not a well-played game by either team — Orlando shot just 43 percent and Washington only 37 percent — but the Magic were able to make plays when they needed them.
Orlando led by as many 16 points in the first half, used an 8-0 spurt at the end of the third quarter to go ahead 78-71, and took a 91-84 lead with 3:15 left in the game on a steal and three-point play by Harris.
After Harris’ 15-foot floater gave the Magic a five-point lead with 1:22 left, Wall made two free throws to get the Wizards within 93-90. The Magic then missed, but Wall couldn’t convert at the other end and the final 20 seconds became a free throw shooting contest.
Harris and Beno Udrih combined to hit four of six from the line to keep the Magic in front. Udrih finished with 10 points and nine assists.
The Magic led 58-46 at halftime after shooting 51.1 percent against almost no defensive pressure. Harris scored 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while Harkless had 12 points and six rebounds, five at the offensive end.
Still neither team could get control until the middle of the second period, when the Magic scored eight straight and finished the half on a 23-13 run.
Wall scored 11 of the Wizards’ 13 points in the last five minutes of the half to help keep Washington within striking distance. He then scored the first six points of the second half as Washington came out with a 13-2 run to cut the deficit to 60-59.
Harris stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer and the Magic slowly regained control, finishing the quarter on another 8-0 run to lead 78-71.
Washington caught Orlando with two jumpers from Webster and a 3-pointer by Trevor Ariza that made it 78-78 with 8:56 left in the game, but that was all the Wizards could muster as they couldn’t get consistent scoring from anyone other than Wall and Webster. Washington had only 15 assists in the game and turned the ball over 14 times, costing them 21 points.
NOTES: Nelson left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return. … Wizards PG John Wall is shooting 51.2 percent from the floor (83 for 162), 58.3 percent from 3-point territory (7 for 12) and 82.4 percent from the free throw line (70 for 85) in his last 10 games. … Magic C Nik Vucevic missed his fifth straight game with a mild concussion. … Magic C Kyle O’Quinn, subbing for Vucevic, is averaging a double-double (14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) in his last four games. … Ariza returned to the lineup after missing three games with the flu.