HOUSTON — John Wall trailed Nick Young on a fast break, watched Young miss an uncontested layup, and came soaring from behind to catch the ball and dunk with both hands. Wall screamed so loudly that the boom microphones near the rim ensured all 13,894 fans at Toyota Center could hear him.
The Washington Wizards trailed by just two points midway through the third quarter on Friday night, forcing Houston Rockets Coach Kevin McHale to call timeout, but over the next 11 minutes their enthusiasm vanished. Young periodically glanced at the scoreboard, noticing that the deficit was suddenly 10, then 20, then 30, and he gave a confused look at his teammates.
“I asked the team, like, ‘Dang, what happened?’ ” Young said after the Wizards unraveled in the second half of a 103-76 loss.
There really wasn’t much mystery in the cause of the defeat — the Wizards simply didn’t take care of the ball and shot poorly, creating a lethal tonic — but the swift nature of the meltdown left them all baffled.
“There was no way we was supposed to be down 30 this game, or even losing this game,” Jordan Crawford said. “We were controlling the whole game. Felt like ours, but you know . . . I don’t even know how to explain it. Lost concentration, I guess.”
The Wizards (3-16) packed some positive vibes, laughter and enthusiasm from their rousing home win in new Coach Randy Wittman’s debut against Charlotte on Wednesday. But they also brought along their nasty habit of being careless with the ball. After matching their season-high with 23 turnovers in the win over the Bobcats, they set a new with 24 miscues on Friday, leading to 41 points for the Rockets (11-8).
“We were our own worst enemy,” Wittman said. “We were throwing cross-court passes from one side of the floor to the other. You can’t get away with that in high school without a steal. We’ve got to value the ball. Our initial defense is fine, but if you give a team 41 points off your turnovers, you’re going to lose like we did.”
In his second game after replacing Flip Saunders, Wittman coached against the man who fired him from his previous coaching job in Minnesota three years ago. McHale replaced Wittman as coach after dismissing him in December 2008, was fired from the Timberwolves when that season ended and took two seasons off before returning to coaching.
McHale worked with both Saunders and Wittman for many years with the Timberwolves but said Thursday that he had “no thoughts” about the coaching change in Washington. He now has wins over both his former employees after sweeping the season series against the Wizards — including their most decisive win of the season on Friday.
Wittman tried to mix things up in his second game, giving rookie Jan Vesely his first career start and sending Andray Blatche back to the bench. Vesely played well against the Rockets, specifically in guarding Houston forward Luis Scola, when the teams met at Verizon Center earlier this month.
But Scola had way too much in his offensive repertoire to allow a rookie to contain him for second game in a row. With an array of jump hooks, spin moves and baseline jumpers, Scola scored with little resistance and little elevation. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Vesely had five points, six rebounds and three steals, all in the first half, and only contributed two turnovers in the second half. “I thought Jan came in, played well. I thought his first half was stellar,” Wittman said. “He learned a valuable lesson against Scola, who is a very good player in this league.”
After Wall’s dunk brought the Wizards within 57-55 with 5 minutes 52 seconds remaining in the third, the Rockets went to Scola on four consecutive possessions and came away with eight consecutive points. Crawford made a 20-foot jumper with about three minutes left in the third period, but the Wizards would not make another field goal until Young (15 points on 6-of-17 shooting) hit a pull-up jumper nearly 10 minutes later to make the score 93-62.
During the scoring drought, the Wizards missed 12 consecutive shots and turned over the ball six times. The Rockets outscored the Wizards 23-0 over that span, getting plenty of breakaway layups, dunks and uncontested three-pointers.
Rockets reserve Chase Budinger hadn’t played the previous three games, but got an opportunity Friday because starting shooting guard Kevin Martin sat out with plantar fasciitis. He erupted for a season-high 21 points and made four three-pointers. The Wizards were 1 for 8 from long distance.
Wall, who had a career-high 38 points in the team’s last meeting, finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists but didn’t score after his third-quarter dunk. Young and Wall were the only Wizards to score in double figures.
JaVale McGee finished with nine points and 11 rebounds but the Wizards remain the only NBA team without road win, at 0-8. They will have another chance to end their road-losing streak with a rematch in Charlotte on Saturday.