ORLANDO, Fla. It has not been easy for the Wizards to win here. The Wizards have lost seven straight games against the Magic. Caron Butler delivered the Wizards' last victory on a last-second jump shot in February 2010. A blizzard paralyzed Washington after the game.
That win over the Magic was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise turbulent 2009-10 season. The Wizards then spent the weekend stuck in Orlando with the East Coast snowed in. Butler was soon traded to the Mavericks, and the remaking of the Wizards was underway.
In February 2012, the Wizards are rebooting in the midst of a rebuild. Bad habits and a bad record forced the firing of coach Flip Saunders, but now there are signs the players might be developing some team commitment and chemistry. Whether it was the coaching change or not, there has been a change on the court in Randy Wittmans four games as head coach.
I think players are playing harder for some reason, Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. That is the main difference, and I think it is very noticeable. Practice and games players are more focused now.
With Andray Blatche now out three to five weeks with a strained right calf, Booker will receive increased playing time. Over the last two games, Booker has already taken advantage of extended minutes with 30 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. The variety in Bookers stat line is a result of a high energy approach that fits with what Wittman is looking for.
The Wizards approach is not just about numbers. Jan Vesely has started the last three games ahead of Blatche, and he has not wasted the minutes. During that span, Vesely has played as few as 15 minutes and as many 29 minutes, and his contributions have been as varied as the minutes. Vesely had steals and flying dunks, but also excelled in more subtle areas of basketball.
There is nothing in the stat sheet you look at the next morning and you go, 'Wow, look at that stat line,' Wittman said of Vesely. He does all the little things. He runs the floor as well as any big in the league. That helps Nick Young, that helps Wall when you opposing teams have to run back and protect the rim. That opens up the floor for our perimeter players.
Against the Magic, the Wizards could use an open floor, because it wont be easy on the inside. In the 103-85 loss to the Magic on Jan. 4 in Orlando, Dwight Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds. The win over the Wizards was back when the Magic enjoyed a run of 10 wins in 12 games.
There has been no magic in Orlandos recent run, when they have lost six of eight games and four straight. Point guard Jameer Nelson had been struggling before being sidelined with a jaw injury that will keep him out of tonights game. The Magics woes, even with Nelsons dip in numbers and now absence, are hard to explain.
On Monday, the Magic had to use a late surge to score 69 points in a loss to Philadelphia. At home, the Magic also suffered a 21-point loss to Indiana, and now that concern about Howard's possibly leaving the Magic is all over the newspapers and talk radio in Orlando.
I want them Wizards to focus on what is going to make us have a good chance to win games, Wittman said when asked about Orlando. I really want them thinking about themselves and what do I have to do and what can I do better. That is the step of growth we need.