By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 1:55 AM
HOUSTON - It will end at some point, maybe not this calendar year. But the Washington Wizards will put a halt to their misery away from Verizon Center, once they develop the discipline, the confidence and the belief required to win a road game. The wait will have to continue, however, after the Wizards squandered one of their best opportunities to cross what has now become a mental hurdle.
After the Wizards lost to the Houston Rockets, 100-93, on Monday at Toyota Center to remain the only winless team on the road this season at 0-15, the common refrain from players within the locker room was that they gave away the game - which is an improvement over their usual lopsided road losses, but provided no solace for a struggling team that set a new franchise record with their 16th consecutive loss away from home, dating back to last season. Their last road win came April 9 in Boston.
"It's kind of frustrating because you know you're right there to get one," said No. 1 overall pick John Wall. "It's right there."
The Wizards appeared headed toward their first road victory of the season - and the first of Wall's career - when Nick Young made a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Wizards a 10-point lead with 10 minutes remaining. But for a team that has yet to experience any success outside of Washington, holding on to that lead presented greater challenges, as it evaporated in fewer than four minutes.
As the Rockets continued to make their push, the Wizards took bad shots, missed free throws, committed turnovers and sulked. And any chance of the streak coming to an end was squashed when the Rockets made back-to-back three-pointers to turn a one-point game into a seven-point lead with 1:49 remaining. Kevin Martin scored a game-high 20 points and buried the backbreaking three-pointer from the left corner, then ran into his teammates and celebrated, while Young and his teammates lowered their shoulders and heads in disgust.
"They picked up their tempo and kept going, kept plugging away. They kept going hard," Andray Blatche said of the Rockets. "We had a couple of mental mistakes; we always collapse in the fourth quarter. That always hurts us. If we play mentally strong as we did in the first half, our record would be completely different."
Blatche and JaVale McGee both returned to the starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, after the players scuffled with each other outside a District club last week. Saunders went with his 14th different starting lineup this season, moving Rashard Lewis over to small forward in place of Al Thornton.
The Wizards went to Blatche on the first play, and he quickly made a shot off the glass. Blatche finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds and gave the Wizards a 93-92 lead when he drove baseline and made a reverse layup. But after Martin responded with two free throws, Blatche was called for traveling. Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks then hit a three-pointer to put his team ahead 97-93. And, after Lewis missed a long jumper, Martin capped the scoring with his three-pointer as the Rockets (15-15) won their fifth in a row and eighth consecutive game at home.
"For us, it's very similar with how a lot of our games have been," Coach Flip Saunders said. "Disappointing how hard we played, controlled momentum for most of the game, and when things went bad, we missed some free throws, had some problems with execution on both ends and [Houston] made a couple of big shots."
Wall had his first career triple-double in leading the Wizards to a 98-91 win in the last meeting between these teams on Nov. 10. Playing just his second game since missing the previous four with a bone bruise in his right kneecap, Wall came off the bench and made a huge difference when he was on the floor, as he scored 13 points with six assists and kept the Rockets on their heels with his aggressive drives to the basket. He didn't shoot well, but made repeated trips to the foul line, where he shot 9 of 13.
The rookie was in such a good rhythm that after making two free throws to give his team a 73-68 lead at the end of the third quarter, he winked in the direction of the Wizards' bench. But as the game lagged on, Wall began to tire and Brooks took advantage, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the final period.
"I felt pretty good," Wall said. "But I didn't do a great job of being the point guard and setting up my teammates. It didn't have to be a big shot. But we were going for the home runs and they chipped away at the lead and took it away from us."
Young (18 points) put the Wizards ahead 82-72 with 10:01 left in the game, but the Rockets went on 15-4 run, sparked by Shane Battier and Brooks, who coerced Kirk Hinrich (19 points) into fouling him on a three-pointer. Brooks made all three free throws, then Battier gave the Rockets an 87-86 lead with a three-pointer with 6:39 remaining.
After Blatche's reverse layup, the Wizards missed their final six shots and committed three turnovers in the final three minutes. "This was a tough loss, because we felt like we gave it away," said Lewis, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. "We pretty much had control the whole game until the last five minutes in the fourth quarter. I thought we gave this game away."