Magic-Wizards Preview

To some franchises, a sub-.500 opening month would be a reason

to panic.

To the undermanned and generally unsuccessful Washington

Wizards, it’s a sign of hope.

After closing November with six wins in eight games despite a

rash of injuries, the Wizards look to open December on a similarly

strong note Monday night against the visiting Orlando Magic.

Washington (8-9) is among the 13 Eastern Conference teams at or

below .500, but considering it lost Bradley Beal (leg) for at least

two weeks, has been without Al Harrington (knee) for three and has

yet to see No. 3 overall pick Otto Porter make his debut, there

won’t be any complaints coming from the nation’s capital.

The Wizards lost 12 of their first 13 games two seasons ago and

13 of 14 in November a year ago, so being anywhere near .500 at

this point represents a step in the right direction. Washington

opened a four-game homestand with a 108-101 win over Atlanta on

Saturday to ensure its best November since 1984 despite starting

2-7.

”This was a good month for us. It was a tough start to the

month, to the season. We didn’t want to get the start we had, but

it happened,” coach Randy Wittman said.

John Wall has picked up his game lately, averaging 25.3 points

while shooting 51.4 percent over his last six contests. The Wizards

are 7-3 when Wall scores at least 15 and 1-6 otherwise, though the

former No. 1 overall pick knows his team needs to get its missing

pieces back.

”When we’re healthy, I feel we can compete with anybody,” Wall

said. ”We didn’t panic because we knew what kind of team we had.

We have a team that’s capable of being in the playoffs.”

If the Magic (6-10) have similar aspirations, they’ll want to

avoid falling too much further below .500 over the next two weeks.

Monday’s game marks the beginning of a six-game road trip, and

Orlando is 1-5 away from home.

The Magic trailed by 18 at halftime Friday in a 109-91 loss to

San Antonio, their fifth game in seven nights.

“We just came off a little grind,” forward Andrew Nicholson told

the team’s official website. “Now, we’ve just got to take care of

ourselves (on the trip). I think we’ll be ready for that and we’ll

be ready to go.”

Orlando is hoping a few of its key players will be ready to go

at some point on the trip. Jameer Nelson sat out against the Spurs

with a foot injury but will travel with the team, while Tobias

Harris (ankle) could join the team at some point on the road after

missing 15 of the first 16 games.

Harris had a career high-tying 30 points and 11 rebounds when

Orlando last met Washington, a 97-92 home win March 29. The home

team won all four meetings in last season’s series.

The injuries to Beal, Porter and Harrington – and earlier ones

to Trevor Ariza and Nene – have tested the Wizards’ depth, and

Washington’s second unit has suffered as a result. Its reserves are

averaging a league-low 18.8 points, and not since Martell Webster

scored 21 on Nov. 13 has a Wizards bench player reached double

digits.

Webster has averaged 15.4 points while starting all nine games

since.

Magic leading scorer Arron Afflalo (21.4 points per game) shot

32.0 percent in three games against the Wizards last season –

including a 1-for-11 performance in his last visit to the Verizon

Center.