Woeful 1st Half Sinks Wizards

Houston Rockets' Carl Landry, left, is fouled by Washington Wizards' Antonio Daniels (5) during the first half of a basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008 in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Houston Rockets' Carl Landry, left, is fouled by Washington Wizards' Antonio Daniels (5) during the first half of a basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008 in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan) (Pat Sullivan - AP)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

HOUSTON, Feb. 26 -- Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche was dribbling the ball in the open court and the only thing that separated him from an easy basket was 41-year-old Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo.

Seeing Blatche, Mutombo planted himself in front of the Rockets' basket and dared the third-year forward to challenge him. Blatche did and the result was an emphatic block by Mutombo, who earned a technical foul for waving his long index finger in Blatche's face, but nonetheless set the tone for Houston's 94-69 dismantling of the Wizards.

How ugly was it? Consider that Washington scored a season-low 12 first-quarter points, finished with a franchise-low 23 first-half points and trailed by 31 late in the second quarter. The 69 points were also a season low, the Wizards shot a season-worst 31.3 percent and their 11 assists tied a season low.

The Wizards (27-30) were playing their fourth game in five nights and it showed.

"We created some turnovers early on but we didn't break like we wanted to and we probably should have got some easy baskets, but when you can't make shots, you kind of slip and slide," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "That gives them the juice. Somebody's got to find it and that never happened for us tonight."

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 18 points and nine rebounds, but he was the only starter to score in double figures. Rookie guard Nick Young (16 points) and rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov (season-high 11 points) were the only other Washington players that got anything going.

Blatche, who made his 14th start in place of injured forward Caron Butler, shot 1 of 9 in the first quarter and finished with six points and two rebounds on 2-of-13 shooting. His night was summarized when he executed a beautiful spin move on the baseline in the second quarter but missed an open dunk.

"Nothing went our way tonight," Blatche said. "They came out on fire and we just never got it going ourselves."

The Wizards were less than 24 hours removed from a thrilling 95-92 victory at New Orleans that was clinched by DeShawn Stevenson's game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer and were seeking their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 11-14, when they won in overtime at Atlanta and beat Boston in back-to-back games.

Earlier in the day, the Rockets were rocked by the news that six-time all-star center Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the remainder of the season.

Still, the Rockets (37-20) won their 13th straight game and improved to an NBA-best 22-4 since Jan. 1.

Whatever disappointment the Rockets felt over Yao's injury, it didn't show at the start as Houston built leads of 11-3, 15-5 and 22-7. Mutombo, who made his first start of the season, registered two of his four blocks in the first period and forced the Wizards to alter several other shots.

The Wizards shot 18.5 percent in the opening period and several possessions ended with a player forcing an effort before the shot clock expired.

"We were rushing our shots and we weren't running the offense we usually run," said Stevenson, who scored five points one night after finishing with a career-high 33 points in the win at New Orleans. "We let them get on top of us real quick and when they did that, we started hanging our heads and couldn't get a handle on it after that."

The Rockets, meantime, didn't even need a big night out of Tracy McGrady, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Luther Head came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points and rookie forward Luis Scola added 14, making all seven of his shots.

"I had a feeling we were going to come out with a lot of effort," Houston Coach Rick Adelman said. "I just felt that the team has really been building. Losing Yao was a shock to them but we've still been talking about how we can win. We're not stepping away because we lost him."

Wizards Notes: Butler, who missed his 11th straight game with a strained left hip flexor, did not make the trip and is not expected to join the team prior to Friday's game at Chicago. . . .

The team will be off Wednesday and will practice Thursday in Chicago, where the Wizards have lost six straight.

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