Wizards let lead slip away in Houston, streak grows

(David J. Phillip)
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By Michael Lee
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

HOUSTON - The Washington Wizards were too close to ending their misery, and John Wall was playing so well that Coach Flip Saunders really couldn't limit the No. 1 overall pick to just 20 minutes against the Houston Rockets. Wall, playing just his second game since missing the previous four with a bone bruise in his right kneecap, was in a good rhythm and was feeling so good that he gave a wink to the bench at the end of the third period.

The Wizards were attempting to snap a 15-game road-losing streak that dates to last season and appeared heading in that direction when Nick Young knocked down a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Wizards a 10-point lead with 10 minutes 1 second left in the game. But for a team that has had no success away from Verizon Center, holding onto that lead presented greater challenges, as it evaporated in fewer than four minutes.

"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 they made a couple of big shots."

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 buried the backbreaking three-pointer of the Wizards' 100-93 loss from the left corner, then ran into his teammates and celebrated, while Young and his teammates lowered their heads in disgust.

"They picked up their tempo and kept going, kept plugging away. They kept going hard," 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."

The Wizards (7-22) set a new franchise record with their 16th consecutive loss away from home. Their last road win came April 9 in Boston.

Andray 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 starting lineup this season, moving Rashard Lewis over to small forward in place of Al Thornton after Lewis scored 21 points with 12 rebounds the night before in San Antonio.

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 with the Wizards trailing by one point, Blatche was called for traveling and Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks responded with a three-pointer that put his team ahead, 97-93.

And, after Lewis missed a long jumper, Martin hit another three-pointer to put the game away. Martin led all scorers with 20 points as the Rockets (15-15) won their fifth in a row and eighth consecutive game at home.

"We kept fighting. Didn't quit," Washington's Josh Howard said. "Didn't finish like we was supposed to. It's frustrating, but we got to keep playing hard, keep playing."

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. He came off the bench for the second game in a row and provided a boost in the first period. Wall scored or assisted on six of the points during a 10-2 run that helped the Wizards get to 28-27. He found Lewis for an alley-oop dunk, made two free throws, then kicked the ball out to Howard for a jumper.

Wall made a huge difference when he was on the floor, as he kept the Rockets on their heels with his aggressive drives to the basket. He didn't shoot well, but made repeated trips to the free throw line, where he shot 9 for 13. Wall finished with 13 points and six rebounds and hasn't won a game since Dec. 3.

Kirk Hinrich led six Wizards in double figures with 19 points, Young added 18, Lewis and Howard both had 12.

The Wizards trailed, 61-58, when the unusually nimble Chuck Hayes found Luis Scola cutting down the lane for a fast-break layup. Lewis hit a long jumper, then Howard made another, before Wall took control. He made two free throws to put the Wizards ahead by three points, then left Brooks (15 points) wide open while double-teaming Scola, but McGee had his back as he rushed out to the three-point line to block the shot and recover the ball. Wall darted up the court, got fouled and made two free throws to give the Wizards a 73-68 lead. He then winked in the direction of the Wizards' bench.

Wall drove inside and got knocked down by Shane Battier before finding Josh Howard open for a jumper. Coach Rick Adelman picked up a technical, believing that Wall had committed an offensive foul. But little worked in favor of the Wizards the rest of the game, as they allowed an opponent to score 100 points for the first time since dealing away Gilbert Arenas on Dec. 18.

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