By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; D04
HOUSTON -- Andray Blatche got fouled and leaned to his left as his fall-away jumper banked off the backboard. After watching his shot fall, Blatche whirled around, pumped his fist, kicked out his leg and screamed. He later made the free throw to give the Washington Wizards a five-point lead over the Houston Rockets with less than five minutes remaining in Tuesday night's contest.
"I was thinking there was no way we could lose this game," Blatche said.
Blatche had 31 points at the time, having little trouble working around Rockets undersized center Chuck Hayes or anyone else thrown against him. And therein was the problem. Because as the game continued, Blatche refused to believe that the Rockets could stop him. But not only did the Rockets figure out how to keep Blatche silent the rest of the night, they also held the Wizards to just one meaningless field goal the rest of the game, resulting a disappointing 98-94 loss at Toyota Center.
Rockets reserve Chase Budinger broke a 92-all tie with a bank shot with 28.3 seconds remaining and later added two decisive free throws as the Wizards extended their franchise-record losing skid to 16 games. It was the fourth time during this streak that the Wizards (21-52) had lost a game decided by six points or fewer. They lost another game to Charlotte in overtime.
"We were there. We've been in games. That's the frustrating thing," Coach Flip Saunders said afterward. "But I told our guys. 'We don't have that trust factor.' The reason we did so well over the first 46 minutes is because we shared the ball. All of sudden we got down to the last few minutes and decided to play a different way -- stand and watch."
Saunders singled out Blatche, who had his fifth 30-point game since the all-star break. But after his three-point play gave the Wizards an 89-84 lead, he missed his final four shots -- including two in the final 61 seconds, when he admitted to ignoring open teammates. "I got to learn from it," said Blatche, who added 10 rebounds and three assists (all of his assists were in the first half). "I just want to say my teammates did what they was supposed to do. I take full responsibility for the loss. I don't know; I just got to grow from it. I have to show trust in my teammates, be more relaxed and take what's given."
Saunders said moving through Hayes "like trying to run through [a] brick wall." And on Blatche's final shot, Hayes forced him into an off balance turnaround jumper just inside the foul line. The Rockets went ahead on their next possession, as the 6-foot-6 Hayes later set the screen on Mike Miller to free Budinger (24 points) for the go ahead jumper.
Earl Boykins missed a three-pointer with 13.9 seconds remaining and Budinger grabbed the rebound. "I always play to win," Boykins said after scoring 12 points. "I don't play for overtime."
JaVale McGee had been struggling in recent weeks, with Saunders benching him in favor of James Singleton the previous two games. Saunders went with Fabricio Oberto at center against the Rockets, hoping that he could use his familiarity with fellow Argentine Luis Scola, who scored 23 points when Houston beat Washington three weeks ago. Scola finished with just 16.
But in the fourth quarter, McGee was active on both ends of the floor, as he scored 10 of his 13 points and grabbed five rebounds. After Rockets guard Aaron Brooks tied the game with a three-point play, McGee put the Wizards back ahead with back-to-back layups, then Boykins gave the Wizards an 86-80 lead with a fast break jumper. Blatche followed with his three-point play with 5:11 remaining, but the Wizards would go more than five minutes without a field goal before Miller tipped in a shot with 5.1 seconds to go. "We should've won this game, if I shoot anything remotely close to how I normally shoot," said Miller, who had 14 points, but missed 11 of his 15 shots. Miller added a game-high 12 rebounds.
The Wizards have undergone so much roster turnover because of injuries, trades, suspensions, buyouts and defections that it is getting more difficult to determine who's in, who's out, or who's left.
When the newly-signed Cartier Martin entered the game late in the second quarter against the Rockets, the Wizards set a new team record for number of players to step foot on the courtin one season at 23. And, considering that Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden never played for the Wizards, they actually have had 25 different players on the roster.
"Feels like the CBA, when you have that many guys," Saunders said before the game. He then joked that Martin is "maybe not the last, either."
According to a league source, the Wizards intend on signing Cedric Jackson of the Developmental League's Erie BayHawks, which would make it 26 different players in a Wizards uniform this season. But the Wizards remain focused on trying to halt a more shameful bit of history -- the franchise-record losing streak. The Wizards will play the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday.
"It's starting to be redundant," Singleton said after scoring 12 points. "We just made dumb plays, defensive breakdowns. I don't get it. This is a game we was definitely supposed to win. I understand what it takes to win. I know that it takes patience, character, determination, will, common sense, basically. But it can't just be one guy. It has to be all five."