The Orlando Magic currently sit third in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but from the looks of it, Dwight Howard and company are tops on Washington's "worst first round matchup nightmare" list.
The Magic came into Verizon Center last night and delivered and old fashioned beat down on their hosts, winning their third straight game 122-92. It was a strong statement that they don't plan on letting the Wizards climb back into the Southeastern Division race. With the win Orlando (40-23) stretched their lead to 9.5 games.
Washington (29-31) was dominated in every facet of the game from the opening tip. They fell behind 10-2 in the first few minutes and were completely out of the game by the second half. The Magic had six players in double-figures including Keith Bogans and Carlos Arroyo - who I so astutely pointed out are not big scoring threats off the bench. Dwight Howard went for 20 and 11 and spent most of the evening dunking on the heads of Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila.
Speaking of Haywood, he was a complete no-show. Washington's starting center - who did a decent job matching Howard in their first meeting (10 points, 16 boards and 5 blocks) - finished with no points, one block, four fouls and two measly boards. Haywood had been playing some of his best basketball of late, so let's hope we're not seeing the re-emergence of Brenda.
On the positive side, Nick Young scored 15 points, showing his ability to contribute in games that are already well out of hand, and Oleksiy Pecherov poured in a career-high with 15 of his own in a career-high 23 minutes. It's nice to see him getting his feet wet but don't expect either guy to crack 15 minutes in a game that's even remotely close. Remember, this is Eddie "I work my starters down to the bone" Jordan we're talking about here.
With two matchups left with the Magic - both in Orlando - it might actually behoove the Wiz to tank a few near the end of the season so they can meet the second-seeded Pistons in the first round instead. Yeah, that's crazy talk, I know, but should the Wiz improve their position and finish fifth, we know how things go against the Cavaliers. From what I've seen, Washington simply can't match up with the Magic. And even with Gilbert and Caron - and maybe even Etan - back in the lineup (knock on wood) come playoff time, we're looking at another possibly riveting six or seven-game losing series with the Cavs. So strictly looking at the matchups, big bad Detroit might be the lesser of three evils. We'll find out on national television when the Pistons come to town on March 23.
Barber Shop Talk
Earlier this season I mentioned the infamous Beard Challenge '07 between DeShawn Stevenson and Drew Gooden. Essentially, it consisted of a no-holds-barred all-out grow-off between two outspoken players on Eastern conference rivals.
Last we heard, Gooden (now a member of the Bulls, thus making this whole thing slightly less intriguing but certainly no less hairy) was hell-bent on doubling up on DeShawn. This from a November e-mail posted on the Bog.
- "I already lost to him in a High School State Championship, but beat him in last year's Playoffs. This one would put me ahead 2-1 when I win!" - D Good 90
As for the Big Drizzle, this guy is growing strong. He looks like a complete and utter hobo and in this competition, that's a good thing. He's got the hallmarks of a good beard - length and the density. I'm going to give him a solid six inches with a bonus for significantly more hair mass than DeShawn.
Barring the use of BGH (beard growth hormone) or a serious shaving mishap on the part of Gooden, it looks like he's got this one in the bag. Here's hoping they both shave off their massive chin-straps when this is all over and donate them to a beard-weaver near you.
All this talk of bristles got me thinking, how much better would the NBA be if playoff teams adopted the NHL's beard-growing habits. Seriously, imagine Josh Childress going Mike Commodore or Dirk going with the all-out Lanny McDonald.
The NBA. Where beards happen.
Not a sermon, just a thought.
All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
-- The Tar Heel