Those are the opponents' shooting percentages in the first three games. Maybe the Wizards aren't piling up the points themselves, and maybe their rebounding and foul shooting aren't yet up to scratch, but Saturday's night 87-79 victory over the Orlando Magic
was Exhibit No. 3 that Washington is finally taking its defense seriously.
Arenas scored 30 points to go with his defense, and Antawn Jamison added 17 of his 23 in the second half and grabbed 13 rebounds for Washington in its home opener. The Wizards, coming off their first playoff appearance in eight years, improved to 3-0 for the first time since the 1978-79 season, which was also the last time they played in the NBA Finals.
"As long as we're winning," Jamison said. "Last year we did up-and-down the court, no defense. It's good to watch, but there were a lot of opportunities we let slip away. But if we've got to play 70, 80 games like tonight where the defense takes over, I'd rather take that. You don't put yourself in the hole. You don't rely on your offense throughout the whole game."
It helped that the visitors were the Magic, who have yet to find their shooting touch. They shot 31 percent, including 10-for-41 in the second half and 4-for-20 in the fourth quarter when the game was well within reach. Orlando is 0-3 for the first time since
starting 0-6 in 1990-91.
"It happened again," said Steve Francis, who scored 16 points. "When we really need a basket, we really kind of look discombobulated out there, to where we really don't know who to get shots from. It has to improve in order for us to win a game."
Arenas and Jamison scored 10 points in a 12-0 run late in the third quarter that put the Wizards ahead for good, and Washington held on in a sloppy but close fourth quarter in which the teams combined to make only nine field goals. The Wizards would have won
with some ease if they hadn't missed 13-of-37 free throws.
"It's early in the season," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "Probably the defense is ahead of the offense for most teams. You just have to take it as it comes."
Francis made it close when he hit a 3-pointer with 2:02 remaining to pull the Magic to 81-79, but Orlando didn't score again. Francis missed two free throws with 56 seconds left, and the Wizards closed out the victory by going 4-for-6 from the line in the final minute.
The talents of Arenas and Howard kept the game watchable in an often ragged evening. Both had eye-popping one-handed dunks in the first quarter, but the Wizards went more than five minutes without a field goal after Arenas' slam in the second quarter.
The Wizards then failed to score on their first six possessions of the second half. Francis and Howard hooked up for a nice alley-oop, and Hedo Turkoglu's 3-pointer put Orlando ahead by nine.
But the Magic did little after that. Jamison and Arenas had their run near the end of the third quarter, which included back-to-back 3-pointers, to put the Wizards ahead 65-61 going into the fourth. The Magic started 0-for-9 from the field in the final period.
"We struggled some offensively," Orlando coach Brian Hill said. "We were a little hesitant against their zone defense. Obviously, you want to get that first win. You don't want to go too many without it."
Wizards guard Antonio Daniels sprained his left ankle in the third quarter and did not return. ... The Wizards gave themselves the red carpet treatment during the pregame ceremony. The starters struck poses as they rose one at a time amid smoke on a movable platform in front of a replica of the Washington Monument and then walked down a red carpet through a pair of faux Roman columns and onto the court. Arenas, waving his warmup jersey as he trundled
down the steps, received the loudest ovation. He also addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support in last year's postseason run. "We wanted to keep it going this year," he said. ... Wizards forward Caron Butler missed his second straight game with a bruised thigh. ... The Wizards failed to sell out their home opener a year ago, but this time the 20,173-seat MCI Center was full.