HOUSTON, Feb. 15 -- With point guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Antawn Jamison both set to participate in their first all-star game this weekend in Denver, the Washington Wizards did their best Tuesday night to prepare the duo for that game. They didn't play any defense against the Houston Rockets as they lost their third in a row, 123-93, at Toyota Center.
The Wizards (30-22) would have gladly taken 30 wins at this point in the season, but they enter the break with a loud thud as they were walloped by the defending champion Detroit Pistons, humbled by the 11-win New Orleans Hornets and stopped by the red-hot Rockets, who won their eighth consecutive game while shooting 59.5 percent, including 12 of 24 from beyond the three-point line.
Houston's Tracy McGrady glides by Wizards' Antawn Jamison (23 points) en route to a 34-point night. The Rockets won their eighth consecutive game.
(Pat Sullivan -- AP)
_____ Wizards in '05 _____
Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.
"It's disappointing. To work so hard to build something up -- we're better than this," Jamison said after he scored a team-high 23 points. "We have to realize, when we're on the road, in that atmosphere, we have to be a totally different team. We've got to give a better showing and a better effort, especially on the defensive end."
Wizards reserve guard Juan Dixon left the game with 3 minutes 44 seconds left in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle, when he drove in the lane and landed on Rockets center Yao Ming's foot. Dixon said the injury could keep him out "about two weeks."
The loss was the Wizards' fifth consecutive away from MCI Center. Guard Jarvis Hayes, making perhaps his last start at shooting guard with Larry Hughes (broken right thumb) expected to return on Feb. 23 against Memphis, scored 21 points and center Brendan Haywood had 16 points.
"This is not the way we wanted to go out, but it's still not the end of the world," Hayes said. "We've got 30 games left. We've just got to learn from this."
"You have to look at the positive," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Momentum for us is being 30-22. That's not a small feat in itself. That's significant for us, from where we came last year. That's how we're going to carry it into the second half, not necessarily that we lost three in a row. We're 30-22. That's momentum."
The Wizards also expect to get a boost from the return of Hughes, the team's second-leading scorer and the league leader in steals per game, and Kwame Brown, who has missed 38 games because of various foot ailments.
"We're getting Larry and Kwame back, so we've got a lot of positives going into the break," said Arenas, who had nine assists but scored just 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. "We haven't played with a full roster until the day we get back. We're going to come back, going to be at full strength. We're going to be a power team and we're going to be scary."
The Wizards were playing their eighth game in 12 days, but Jordan wouldn't blame the loss on fatigue.
"It's the NBA," Jordan said. "You have to give Houston a lot of respect. I wouldn't disrespect them by saying we had tired legs. They took it to us. They kept pounding us."
The Rockets worked the inside-outside game of their all-star duo of Yao and Tracy McGrady to near perfection. McGrady -- facing the Wizards for the first time since he torched them for a career-high 62 points as a member of the Orlando Magic on March 10, 2004 -- broke out of a mild shooting slump the previous five games with 34 points in addition to nine assists and six rebounds. Yao had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. McGrady and Yao combined to shoot 25 of 36 (69.4 percent).
Former Wizard Juwan Howard and David Wesley both had 18 points and reserve forward Scott Padgett had 13 points, going 3 of 3 from beyond the three-point line.
The Wizards trailed 86-77 when Jamison hit a layup with 1:59 left in the third quarter, but the Rockets went on a 24-10 run over the next eight minutes, leaving Jordan no choice to give his starters an early rest.
"We've got a heck of a ride in front of us," Jordan said. "We did pretty good for the first half of the season. The toughest part lays ahead. We're a first-time team, trying to make it to the playoffs and that's always a bumpy ride."