WASHINGTON (AP)—Amid all the head-scratching permutations for seedings and playoffs matchups as the NBA regular season enters its final day, two facts stand clear: The Orlando Magic will enter the postseason with some momentum, and the Washington Wizards are a mess.
The Magic beat the Wizards 95-89 Tuesday night, keeping up their last-minute push to move up the standings. Orlando has won three straight and five of six, and will take the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory over Miami combined with a Washington loss to Indiana on Wednesday.
“From a professional standpoint, it’s very rewarding and gratifying to play in April and have these games mean something,” said Grant Hill, who scored 13 points. “Just six weeks ago, it didn’t look like we were going to get in. We focused, we got serious, we started playing with a purpose and we put it together.”
Hedo Turkoglu scored 26 points, and Dwight Howard added 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Magic. They closed the game with a 7-1 run as the Wizards again stumbled and bumbled in the final minutes without injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Washington has lost eight of nine, six straight at home and could finish anywhere from sixth to eighth, pending the outcomes of Wednesday’s games.
The Magic didn’t emerge unscathed, however. Backup center Darko Milicic sprained his right ankle fighting for a rebound in the second quarter and was walking on crutches and wearing a protective boot after the game. He’ll have an MRI on Wednesday and his status is uncertain for the playoff opener this weekend.
“It’s a bad sprain,” said Milicic, who is averaging 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds. “It hurts really bad, but we’ll see what the MRI shows.”
Antawn Jamison tried to carry the Wizards on Tuesday with a season-high 48 points, but he got scant help from his teammates. He went 14-for-26 from the field, while the non-Jamison Wizards went 14-for-54.
But Washington’s biggest problems had nothing to do with the absences of Arenas (knee) and Butler (hand). The team went 25-for-44 from the free-throw line, including Jamison’s 15-for-24. In the final minute, Brendan Haywood muffed an easy offensive rebound off his chest with Washington trailing by two, and Jamison missed an easy putback when the deficit was four.
“We don’t have a lot of room for error,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “When we get to the line and miss that many, it is like rolling uphill or going upstream with one oar.”
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Wizards into a tie with the idle Nets, but New Jersey holds the tiebreaker over Washington. The Wizards wrap up the regular season at Indiana on Wednesday, while the Nets finish at home against Chicago.
The Wizards have been close in every game since Arenas and Butler were hurt, with the exception of Sunday’s 101-68 disaster against Chicago when Antonio Daniels’ bruised back forced Washington to start a third-string point guard. Daniels was back Tuesday, but he went 0-for-10 from the field.
The Magic led at halftime but went cold in the third quarter, when they had nearly as many traveling calls (3) as made field goals (4). Jamison’s 3-pointer capped a 16-1 run that gave the Wizards a four-point lead.
The game was tight the rest of the way. The score was tied at 88 when Carlos Arroyo’s layup gave the Magic the lead for good. A free throw by Hill and a jumper from Turkoglu pushed the lead to five while the Wizards were making error after error.
“The reason we’ve been in this funk lately,” Jamison said, “is we do a great job for the majority of the game, but the last two or three minutes we’re not playing smart.”
The Wizards hadn’t lost six straight at home in a season since 2000-01, when they finished with a franchise-worst 19-63 record. … The teams split the season series 2-2, but the Magic have the tiebreaker based on a better divisional record. … The Wizards (40-41) fell below .500 for the first time since they were 10-11 on Dec. 15. … Wizards F Darius Songaila twisted his left ankle in the first quarter but returned to the game. … Jamison’s career high is 51.