HOUSTON — The Washington Wizards came face to beard with what could’ve been on Wednesday night, when Houston Rockets guard James Harden had enough dunks, three-pointers and acrobatic layups to have them second-guessing a decision not to trade for him last summer.
Harden erupted for 17 first-quarter points, matching the entire Wizards team, but before the night was over, he simply became another character in a game of wild runs. The Rockets took a double-digit lead before the Wizards came back to make it close, only for the drill to be repeated. But after struggling to get many easy baskets, the Wizards simply ran out of time for a final push and lost, 99-93, at Toyota Center.
Harden scored a game-high 31 points but his supporting cast was the difference in the sending the Wizards home with their ninth loss in 10 road games. Toney Douglas, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons all took turns leading big runs, with Parsons nailing two three-pointers in the final two minutes that were too much to overcome.
“Sometimes, the other team goes on a bigger run than you do,” rookie Bradley Beal said after scoring a team-high 20 points. “It just so happened that they ended up pulling it out at the end, but I can’t complain with the way we were playing at all.”
According to multiple league sources, the Oklahoma City Thunder offered Harden to the Wizards in a deal that would’ve cost Beal and second-year forward Chris Singleton. The Wizards passed, in part because owner Ted Leonsis was unwilling to give Harden the five-year, $80 million contract extension that he was looking to receive, those sources said. The Thunder eventually dealt Harden, the reigning sixth man of the year and an Olympic gold medalist, to Houston in late October.
The Rockets certainly aren’t complaining about landing the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, who has generated some excitement for the team with his cartoonish facial hair and electrifying game.
“He’s a top-notch player,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Any time you add a player like that to your team, he’s going to make you better. He’s a hard cover.”
Harden had missed his team’s previous game, an overtime loss to San Antonio, with a sprained ankle, but he moved around just fine — and with little resistance — against the Wizards in his sixth 30-point game this season.
Beal complemented his second 20-point game this season with six assists and four rebounds before fouling out after drilling his third three-pointer with 12.1 seconds remaining. He has scored in double figures in six consecutive games.
The Wizards (3-16) had won their first road game of the season the night before in New Orleans, where Jordan Crawford scored a team-high 26 points and personally outscored the Hornets, 12-10, in the fourth quarter. On Wednesday, the Rockets limited him to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting through the first three periods.
Crawford had nine points and two assists in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets had more weapons to counter his offensive outbursts.
“It’s hard, really, because we always have chances it win,” Crawford said.
Five Wizards scored in double figures, with Emeka Okafor scoring a season-high 19 points in his home town. He kept the Wizards hanging around when their offense hit some lulls, hitting jumpers and sweeping hooks. He scored eight consecutive points for the Wizards between the end of the first half and the start of the third period.
“Shots just fell. Came with the mind-set, like, ‘All right. Trying to get a win, try to make it two in a row,’ ” said Okafor, who added six rebounds and two blocked shots. “I just relaxed, did my thing. My confidence is always good, it’s whether it ends up being a win or not.”
Playing his second set of back-to-back games this season, Nene had 13 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.
With 7 minutes 14 seconds left in the third quarter, Martell Webster (16 points) stole the ball from Harden and Beal made two free throws that gave the Wizards a 52-51 lead. Harden then sparked a 15-2 run when he made a three-pointer and later added a fast-break dunk. Patterson, a District native, scored the final five points of the run, throwing down a ferocious one-handed jam and adding a three-point play to put the Rockets ahead, 66-54, with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Wizards responded with a 10-0 run, getting six free throws from Nene and Beal before Webster dunked and Kevin Seraphin made a hook shot. Douglas, a reserve guard for the Rockets, then scored nine of his 12 points during a 12-2 run that kept the Wizards climbing uphill the rest of the night.
Parsons added 18 points, including the decisive three-pointer that put the Rockets ahead 96-87 with 1:08 remaining.
After the game, Wittman lamented the Wizards’ continued struggles from the field, as the team shot just 39.3 percent after shooting 32.9 percent the night before.
“We just got too many tough, bad shots,” he said. “We’ve got to move the ball and we don’t, and that gets you in trouble when you fall in a hole. So, we’ll correct those things. We’re going to get out of here one of these days with a 50-percent shooting night.”