Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native Markelle Fultz experienced a rough start to his NBA career, playing only 36 regular-season games due to injuries after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017.
On Tuesday, the 21-year-old played in his 19th game this season with the Orlando Magic.
Fultz scored a career-high 20 points along with six assists to help lead Orlando to a 127-120 victory over the Washington Wizards in front of his mother, sister and other family and friends at Capital One Arena in northwest D.C., about 25 minutes away from where he received All-American honors at Dematha Catholic High School in Hyattsville.
“It just shows the work that I’ve put in [and] the opportunities this team has given me. I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Fultz said. “It was just great. I caught a lot of family [members in the stands]. It just brings joy to my heart that they can see me out there just playing basketball. Just doing what I love.”
Fultz scored the first bucket of the game by utilizing his seven-inch height advantage over Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas with a post-up jumper. Fultz finished with eight points in the first quarter.
Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who led all scorers with 42 points, noticed Fultz’s overall game has improved.
“He just continues to get better. He made some tough shots early on,” Beal said. “It’s just a testament to his work. You got to tip your hat off to him and give him credit.”
Fultz’s career game came against a depleted Wizards group with seven players injured and inactive, including Tuesday’s announcement that center Thomas Bryant will miss at least three weeks with a stress reaction in his right foot. Moritz Wagner missed his second straight game due to a left ankle sprain.
The Wizards (6-13), with only nine players dressed, started off slow and trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half.
But they started the third quarter on a 21-6 run to take a 75-74 lead after a Beal three-pointer. Orlando went on a 23-13 run in the last nearly nine minutes to end that quarter and never trailed again.
Orlando shooting guard Even Fournier led the team with 31 points. Reserve guard DJ Augustin chipped in 16 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter that included two and-1 opportunities.
The Wizards Achilles’ heel continues to be its defense, with a defensive rating that ranks last in the NBA at nearly 116.
Because of the team’s lack of big men Tuesday, the Magic (9-11) outrebounded Washington 48-38.
Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura played the center position and scored 15 points with six rebounds.
Thomas had one his best offensive games with the Wizards, recording 20 points and seven assists.
“They were knocking down shots. We contested most of the shots. We made them work for it,” Thomas said. “You have to tip your hats off to the Orlando Magic. They played a really good game.”
The Wizards play back-to-back games this week starting Thursday in the District against the Philadelphia 76ers (15-6) and then in South Florida against the Miami Heat (15-5). Washington returns home Sunday to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
“This is the NBA. There’s no excuses. The other teams don’t care we’re down men,” Thomas said. “We just got to be better [defensively]. If we do, it just gives us a better chance to win. We just got to stay together. No matter how hard it gets. At the end of the day, we’re all we got.”