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Wizards survive Magic 88-87: Five takeaways

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Wizards survive Magic 88-87: Five takeaways

ORLANDO -- The last time the Wizards won the first game to open a season is 2009, the year before John Wall was drafted No. 1 overall. That changed Wednesday as the sixth-year point guard took over late as they staged a comeback to beat the Orlando Magic for the 10th time in a row at Amway Center.

The Wizards were in control early and fizzled after the first quarter, and they regained the lead late by Wall who had two steals that resulted in a three-pointer for Bradley Beal and a layup for him. 

With the score tied at 78 and the Wizards briefly taking the lead in the waning minutes, the Magic went up 87-82 and then stalled. The key play was Wall's block of Tobias Harris that led to a transition tip-in from Otto Porter to cut the deficit 87-86 with 50 seconds left. The Wizards seized the lead out of a timeout as Wall hit a one-handed floater and held on after a missed shot by Harris was called goal-tending on Bradley Beal. 

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After officials reviewed the play, the call was reversed though the Magic still had one last chance with 3.5 seconds. Nikola Vucevic's jumper over Marcin Gortat, however, was errant. 

Beal had 24 points to lead all scorers on 9 of 19 shooting but made just 2 of 8 threes to go with six rebounds. Wall had 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals. Kris Humprhies had 11 and six rebounds and Gortat 10 and eight rebounds.

Orlando had six players core in double figures led by Victor Oladipo with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Tobias Harris with 15 points and seven rebounds, Aaron Gordon with 12 and seven rebounds, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja with 11 and Nikola Vucevic 10.

Hezonja, a rookie, had a chance to give the Magic the lead with 38 seconds left but lost the ball off his knee on the drive. That set the stage for Wall's shot.

  • Could the pace be effecting how the Wizards shot free throws? They were just 8 of 15 in the first half, with Wall and Beal each going 0-for-2 in the last 1:48. They could've gone into the half with a better cushion than 53-51. Drew Gooden knocked down his first shot 30 seconds after stepping onto the court, an open three-pointer at 4:22 of the first quarter, but he could barely walk off the floor at midway through the second quarter. He missed his next four shots, the last coming on an open three that suggested he had no legs. The Wizards shot 15 of 25 on foul shots and Gooden only made 1 of 6 shots from the field.

  • Otto Porter was subtle with his effectiveness. He created buckets for teammates with passes in tight spaces, got to the rim, deflected passes by the Magic and got out in transition to give the Wizards opportunities at easier baskets. But he has to score more than seven points to go with his eight rebounds and five assists as the starting small forward. He had a wide-open three with the Wizards down 87-86 in the final minute but shot an airball.

  • Turnovers by the backcourt continue to be problematic. The Wizards started slowly because Beal had two on their first two possessions. Wall had four in the first half. Two of them came on drives to the basket in traffic when he drew contact and didn't get the calls he expected. They opened the third with a 6-0 run for a 59-51 lead, then turnovers destroyed the flow of the game. Humphries passed up an open shot which led to a traveling violation with the shot clock running down, Porter was blocked and couldn't get off a shot in time and Beal stepped on the baseline during a drive. Instead of having a double-digit lead, the Wizards were hanging on for dear life after three, trailing 67-65. Eighteen overall turnovers are too many. The starting backcourt accounted for 10.

  • Humphries made a three-pointer at 2:33 of the second quarter to put the Wizards up 49-47. It was his first long-distance make in a regular season game since his rookie season with the Utah Jazz. The last time he'd made one was Dec. 10, 2004.

  • While it wasn't surprising that rookie Kelly Oubre didn't play, Jared Dudley, who recently returned to the play the final two preseason games after lower back surgery, didn't get off the bench. 

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

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NBCSW

Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.

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John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

The Wizards will only go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal take them. There's just no other way around it.

The chemistry between Wall and Beal has been the dominant topic for years surrounding this team, and the magnifying glass will only be pushed closer this season, despite all of the other additions the Wizards made this offseason.

It's all about the backcourt. 

Luckily, both Wizards All-Stars understand and embrace the pressure. 

"We're opposites, but we're the same in a way," Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "He's more loud and outspoken, I'm more chill and relaxed, but you put us together, it's peanut butter and jelly."

Have you noticed that peanut butter and jelly always seems to be the go-to "good combination" for people? At least Beal didn't say something weird like tuna and bananas, although to each his own if that's what you like.

Anyway, more importantly, Wall understands this sandwich dynamic just as much as Beal does. Especially when the topic of a championship comes up. 

"I couldn't get it without him, and he couldn't do it without me," Wall said.  "I think that's the bond we have built, and it's gotten so much better each year."

One of the biggest reasons for divorce that we see in pro sports is ego. So many players don't understand what Wall alluded to. No matter how good you are, you can't do it alone. You need your wingman.

There were certainly rumblings or worries that Wall and Beal had their issues chemistry-wise earlier in their careers, but we're seeing two young stars grow as each season passes. 

That doesn't mean there still won't be times where they don't click. That's natural.

Keep in mind though, this is the seventh season the two will play together. The NBA is known to chew up and spit out young, inexperienced teams. The grind is part of the journey. Wall and Beal have had playoff success and failures, but they went through it together.

Now comes the time where those learning experiences become something they grow from, and use it to fuel a push to their ultimate goal – a championship.

And maybe a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

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