Editor's Note: This post was originally written on December 9th
When Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison combine for 70 points, it's usually enough to get the Wizards the win. Tonight, however, it simply wasn't the case, as the Wizards fell to the Houston Rockets 114-109 at home.
In the game preview, I suggested that the Wizards let Yao and T-Mac get theirs and focus on stopping the rest of the team. Quite simply, it was a silly suggestion. Yao was unstoppable last night, as he constantly used his size and length to dominate Etan Thomas and the other Wizards centers. When he didn't score, he was fouled, and he hit 12 of 14 from the line. The Wizards had no chance against him last night. Before McGrady left the game with back spasims (be concerned, Rockets fans!), he was dominating on the perimeter with 28 points on 10 of 21 from the field. Finally, even with all of that, the Wizards still allowed 4 other guys to score in double figures. It was simply a dreadful defensive performance.
On the other end, the Big 3 played their game, but nobody else showed up. DeShawn Stevenson was 2 for 9, Etan Thomas 1 for 5, and Antonio Daniels 0 for 1. How in the world is Daniels only shooting one shot? That simply can't happen again. As good as Arenas, Butler, and Jamison are, they need a fourth scorer to do anything.
The defensive performance in particular is somewhat troubling. It's true that no other team has a guy like Yao, and the Wizards simply never have a chance to stop him. However, T-Mac should not be getting 28 points in such a short amount of time. The Wizards surrendered too many open jumpers to Shane Battier, Luther Head, and Juwan Howard. Once again, the Wizards struggled defensively to guard teams that play a half-court style. It happened in Chicago and it happened again last night.
I did see three encouraging signs, however. 38 free throws is really good, even if they gave up 38 to the Rockets. Jamison had a big game yesterday, and his production continues to be a major key for the team. Finally, Eddie opened up the bench, as Roger Mason, Calvin Booth, and even James Lang got into the game yesterday. I've been begging for this the entire season, and it finally seems like Jordan is getting the message. True, Booth and Lang probably only played because of Haywood's injury, but at least Jordan is making the effort.
All in all, it's been 20 games, and the Wizards are 9-11. They've proven they can beat bad teams and even a couple good ones. However, they have to beat good teams at home more consistently to reach the next level. They have two of those types of games next week against Denver and Miami. A sweep of those two teams will signal the Wizards are really back.