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WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards open the second half of the season dealing with the issue that plagued the Eastern Conference contending hopefuls over the opening 41 games: Losing to teams with losing records.
The latest frustrating setback for the Wizards (23-18) came Wednesday with a 107-104 home loss to the Jazz. Utah played without two starters, had its second-leading scorer ejected in-game and lost 13 of 16 since walloping Washington by 47 points on Dec. 13 and yet came away with the victory.
“That is something you never stop thinking about as a competitor,” forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said of the 116-69 thumping on Dec. 4, and that’s why it hurts even more to lose this one.”
Whatever the reason, the reeling Orlando Magic (12-30) would not mind Washington’s playing-down-to-competition trend continues Friday night.
The Magic have lost six in a row and 26 of 30 games since Nov. 10.
The Wizards shot 52.6 percent from the field against the Jazz, but continued a trend of late-game clanking by missing 14 of 22 attempts in the fourth quarter. They also matched a season-high with 23 turnovers.
“Just too many (turnovers),” said Bradley Beal, who had 23 points but also committed Washington’s final turnover with a chance to put up a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
The Wizards trailed by 10 points in the second half, but rallied for a late lead that went away for good when Utah’s Joe Ingles responded with a 3-pointer following a defensive lapse for a 104-102 lead with 1:09 remaining.
“You’re not going to win like that. You’re not going to win a game if you turn it over that many times,” Beal continued. “And, then you give up 60 points in the second half. So, that’s the game right there. We just got to do a better job of taking care of it.”
Washington is 12-11 against teams with losing records this season. Only three teams in the East have at least nine losses against teams under. 500. The Wizards will struggle to improve upon their current fifth-seed status in the conference without a turnaround.
“Just be locked in. Be a locked in team,” John Wall said of the needed fix. “Move the ball offensively, trust guys cutting and trust passing the ball and trust playing team defense. We’ve already shown that we’re capable of it. It’s the same thing that we’ve been saying the last four or five years — I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it. But it is what it is until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”
Wall had 35 points, 11 assists and eight turnovers in the loss to Utah, their second in a row.
The four-time All-Star also had a double-double in Washington’s 130-103 rout over Orlando Dec. 23. The Wizards sank 16 3-pointers and outrebounded the Magic 49-28.
The loss was part of Orlando’s current 1-15 stretch since Dec. 8. Only the Atlanta Hawks have a worse overall record, yet the Magic remain in the business of trying to win. Talking of tanking is not for head coach Frank Vogel.
“That’s not a word I digest,” Vogel said according to the Orlando Sentinel. “I’m trying to build a winning culture, winning habits, and that’s my only focus.”
The box score focus from Wednesday’s 110-103 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks centered on Aaron Gordon’s rough shooting night. The starting forward missed all five of his 3-point attempts and finished 4-of-18 from the field for 11 points.
Gordon averaged 24.8 points over his previous five games.
“I look to take the shots I need to take,” Gordon said. “I play the game the way that I love to play the game: with joy, with passion for myself and confidence, play with courage. There’s some plays in the paint where I can make better decisions, better moves, stronger moves.”
Evan Fournier scored 21 points for the Magic, whose primary issues this season are on the defensive end. Orlando ranks 27th in scoring defense with 110.8 points per game.