The Orlando Magic will finish this season by relying on their least-experienced players — guys like Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, E'Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn.
On Friday night, they made the most of their chance.
Harris scored eight of Orlando's final nine points as the Magic overcame an early right-ankle injury to Jameer Nelson and beat the Washington Wizards 97-92 at Amway Center.
"When that opportunity came, I wanted to take advantage of it," Harris said. "There's been certain times since being in a Magic uniform where I struggled to close out games, and tonight was a good step for me as a player, not only on the offensive end but on defense."
Harris scored a career-high 30 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, collected three steals and blocked three shots.
Magic officials wanted to use the final weeks of the season to evaluate whether Harris can be an effective NBA power forward. On Friday, he showed he can keep his cool down the stretch of a close game. He also made a crucial defensive play; with the Magic clinging to a 93-90 lead in the final minute, he successfully contested a potential game-tying 3-pointer by Trevor Ariza.
During huddles, the 20-year-old Harris urged his teammates on, exhorting them to get stops on the defensive end of the court.
"He was determined, and that's great to see," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "We look at Tobias like he's an eight-year veteran. He's a young guy, too, and for him to take the opportunity to step up and be savvy enough to push his teammates and will his teammates? That's impressive."
Harkless added 18 points and nine rebounds. Moore contributed 15 points. And Beno Udrih took over the point-guard duties after Nelson's injury, scoring 10 points to go along with nine assists.
Nelson injured his right ankle during the first quarter and didn't return to the game. Team officials said Nelson sprained his ankle, and they wouldn't speculate about how much time Nelson will miss.
His absence Friday amplified the team's inexperience.
Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Nik Vucevic all sat out because of injuries, and Vaughn already had decided not to use veteran forwards Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu in order to give more playing time to the youngsters.
The victory was the Magic's 19th of the season, and it ensured that the Magic will not finish this rebuilding year tied for the worst record in franchise history. That distinction will continue to be held by the franchise's inaugural team, the 1989-90 expansion squad, which finished 18-64.
The Wizards (26-46) also entered Friday shorthanded. Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal sat out because of a sprained left ankle. Big man Nenê didn't play because of a sore right knee. And guard Leandro Barbosa has a torn knee ligament.
John Wall scored a game-high 35 points, but he had just two assists to go along with four turnovers.
"We gave this game away," Wall said. "But they hit us in the mouth first."
Harris did most of the hitting for the Magic (19-54).
With Orlando clinging to an 88-84 lead, Harris stole a pass by Wall, drove the length of the floor and made a layup as he absorbed a foul by Martell Webster. Harris made the free throw, and the Magic had extended their lead to 91-84 with 3:15 to go.
The Magic held on. Harris made two key free throws with Orlando up 94-92 with 14.0 seconds left.
"I think it was a great game for us because we closed it out," Harris said. "They made their run. We stayed focused. So we know how this feels. We know how closing out a game feels."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun