Wizards, Magic both fighting through doldrums
The Washington Wizards try to pull out of a skid with postseason aspirations at stake on Tuesday, visiting an Orlando Magic team returning home from a trying, four-game road swing.
Washington (32-39) dropped its fifth decision in the last six outings with a 132-118 loss to Sacramento on Saturday. The recent slide dropped the Wizards to 1.5 games behind Chicago for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, entering Monday's action.
"No one's pleased with where we are, or the struggles we've had, but I've said it all year: No one feels sorry for us. There's no sense in sulking," Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Saturday. "We've got to take something from this and we've got to learn and get better. We've got to be better. Tough without (Kristaps Porzingis), but there's a lot of things we could have done better to kind of help ourselves."
Porzingis, who is averaging a career-best 22.8 points per game, sat against the Kings due to an illness. He is listed as day-to-day ahead of Tuesday's contest.
Kyle Kuzma rebounded from a three-game stretch in which he scored no more than 17 points in any one contest -- bottoming out at seven in a 23-point loss Friday at Cleveland -- with 33 points against Sacramento.
Finding consistency from its leading trio of Kuzma, Porzingis and Bradley Beal, all of whom are averaging more than 21 points per game, will likely be critical for Washington in its final 11 games. The Wizards twice failed to reach 100 points and scored fewer than their 112.8-point per game average in three of the five losses during the current skid.
Orlando (29-43), meanwhile, comes into Tuesday's matchup off a 1-3 road swing through the Western Conference and a 2-6 stretch overall. The Magic allowed an average of 124.3 points in those six defeats.
The Magic closed that stretch by limiting the Los Angeles Lakers to 111 points on Sunday, but Orlando mustered just 105 -- its lowest output since Feb. 27 -- in the last date of the road trip.
Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner each scored 21 points in the loss. The six-point margin marked the fifth time over the last eight in which an Orlando contest was decided by single digits. In one of the two exceptions, the Magic went to overtime in a 12-point victory against Miami.
"It's valuable for sure, just learning how to win, learning what not to do in close situations," the rookie Banchero said of the closely contested games for a young Magic roster.
"It's been a solid season so far," Banchero added. "I want to finish strong."
Banchero is the presumptive front-runner for Rookie of the Year, averaging a team-high 20 points per game and the second-best rebounding average on the team at 6.6 per contest. As Banchero heads into the home stretch, he can become the first player from Orlando to win that award since Mike Miller in 2000-01.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 20, 2023