Wizards-Magic Preview

Dwight Howard ripped into his Orlando teammates after a 26-point

loss late last week, but offered reassuring words about the Magic’s

confidence level following their fourth consecutive dreadful

defeat.

He might not be so kind if that skid gets to five.

Howard and the increasingly dysfunctional Magic hope to begin

turning things around Wednesday night against the Washington

Wizards, who have lost 47 of 51 on the road and seven straight to

Orlando.

A stretch of 10 wins in 12 games following a season-opening loss

couldn’t seem much more distant for the Magic (12-9), who have

since dropped six of eight – often in embarrassing fashion.

Putting up 56 points in a Jan. 23 loss to Boston was bad enough,

but Orlando managed to surpass that disappointment by blowing a

27-point lead in a rematch with the Celtics three days later.

Howard had seen enough after Friday’s 93-67 loss in New Orleans

– his exact words were, “I look at guys and they don’t look like

they want to play” – but the Magic hardly responded, losing by 21

at home to Indiana two days later. It was more of the same Monday

in Philadelphia, where Orlando was behind by 19 late in the fourth

quarter before a late surge cut the final to 74-69.

This time, though, Howard took a gentler approach.

“We’re still a great basketball team, we’re just going through a

tough stretch. That’s it,” said Howard, who continues to address

trade rumors and reportedly has a four-team list of preferred

destinations. “There’s no need for us to complain or point the

finger or for anybody to panic. We’re going to be fine.”

Though Howard was pointing the finger just three days earlier,

he defended those actions.

“As a leader, you’ve got to do things that people don’t like.

People hate what they don’t understand,” Howard said. “My teammates

understand why I said what I said. They all agree.”

While that may be the case, little progress is being made on the

court. Aside from the three-time NBA defensive player of the year,

the Magic are shooting 35.6 percent and averaging 57.5 points in

their last six games.

The absence of point guard Jameer Nelson the past two contests

hasn’t helped Orlando’s offense, though Nelson was averaging just

6.8 points and shooting 30.0 percent in his previous six games

before suffering a jaw injury that’s likely to sideline him at

least three more games.

To coach Stan Van Gundy, though, Orlando’s struggles boil down

to one ingredient.

“They are going through a tough time, and of course confidence

is a huge part of that,” Van Gundy said. “But how do you get that

back? Well, you push through it, and you have a good game and then

you get it back.”

The Magic should have the perfect chance to do so against the

Wizards (4-17), who are 4-47 away from the Verizon Center since

April 12, 2010.

Washington is 2-2 since Randy Wittman took over for the fired

Flip Saunders, but both of those victories came against the

last-place Bobcats – including the team’s first road win this

season, 102-99 on Saturday.

After shooting a season-best 52.6 percent at Charlotte, the

Wizards fell back to 40.2 percent Monday in a 98-88 loss to

Chicago.

Washington has dropped seven straight to the Magic – six by

double digits – and the series has been especially uncompetitive in

Orlando. The Wizards’ four consecutive losses in central Florida

have come by an average of 24.8 points.

Howard has shot 77.8 percent (70 of 90) and averaged 26.0 points

during Orlando’s overall winning streak against Washington.