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Houston Rockets 103, Washington Wizards 91

(No game blog this time because Truth is out of town.  He'll be back for the next home game)

Box Score
Game Flow
Post Recap
Times Recap
Wizards Insider
The Dream Shake can't believe it either
Truth About It
Houston Chronicle

Highest Plus/Minus: Dee Brown (+4 in 15:24)
Lowest Plus/Minus:
Darius Songaila (-13 in 13:18)
Best Five Man Unit: Dee Brown, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, JaVale McGee (+8 for the first 5:42 of the game)
Worst Five Man Unit: Juan Dixon, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, JaVale McGee (-8 down the stretch)

Four Factors:

Team Pace Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% TOr
Houston 88 117 54.8% 31.5 32.4 14.8
Washington 103.4 44.5% 22 23.8 11.4

With 2:22 to go in the third quarter, Andray Blatche fouled Ron Artest.  I don't remember the exact play, and I can't go back to find it because the game was on ESPN and therefore blacked out on NBA League Pass, but I remember that the foul came after Houston grabbed an offensive rebound.  The foul was Blatche's fifth.  This one was legitimate, but many of the ones before it were silly touch fouls that he could have easily avoided. 

From that point on, the Wizards were outscored by 21 points.  That was the moment where this game turned.  Blatche's foul problems triggered every single problem down the stretch.

I hardly mean to say that Andray Blatche cost us this game.  Far from it, in fact.  He was oustanding last night, playing great defense on Yao Ming and actively rebounding.  He didn't commit a single turnover offensively, which is pretty incredible.  But without him in there, Eddie Jordan was forced to go with guys who could not guard Yao Ming.  That led to double-teams, which led to open threes, which led to Eddie's mad scientist brain taking over and crafting strange lineups, which led to Juan Dixon's hero complex taking over, which led to our two start never getting the ball when it mattered, which led to a collapse.

Last night reaffirmed many beliefs I had about Andray Blatche.  Number one, save for Brendan Haywood, he is our best individual post defender by far.  For someone who is so frail, he does a remarkable job of denying his man post position.  Always has, even when he hasn't played well.  The only reason we all noticed last night is that he was doing it against Yao freakin Ming.  JaVale McGee is long and athletic, but like Eddie Jordan said in the Post recap, he has not grasped the concept of playing post defense before your man gets the ball.  Etan Thomas tries to do the things Blatche does, but he's not athletic enough, strong enough or smart enough to pull it off. 

Number two, Blatche is a center.  I know, I know, he's frail, he thinks he's a point guard, but the center position is where he is most successful.  That is where he played the most last year, when he had a mini-breakout.  Playing center makes him a far more effective offensive player because he can pick and slip away from the basket for open jumpers.  Few centers in this league are quick enough to come out on Blatche when he slips.  And if they do, he can at least drive by them and draw the foul.  In essence, playing Blatche at center ensures he's dribbling less and catch-and-shooting more, which means he'll commit fewer turnovers.  Defensively, we've seen that, while undersized and small, he is a very good post defender.  One of the major reasons we defended better last year was that Blatche was taking all of Etan's backup center minutes.  We lost less when Haywood went out of the game defensively because of Blatche's capabilities. 

Those are positive things, but as we all know, Andray Blatche is a fouling machine.  It was on full display tonight, as he committed silly touch fouls that all could have been avoided.  Things like bringing his arms down ever so slightly instead of keeping them up to contest the shot.  Blatche's foul problems stem from being undisciplined, not from being undersized.  And tonight, those foul problems really hurt us.  If he had been able to play that fourth quarter instead of Etan Thomas, we win this game.  There would have been no need to double Yao and leave all those shooters open. 

Instead of Blatche plaiyng, Eddie Jordan had to go to Etan Thomas.  He could have gone to JaVale McGee, but JaVale was getting brutalized by Yao.  Eddie then compounded the problem by going to a remarkably strange AD/Juan/Nick/Songaila/Etan lineup to start the fourth quarter.  That forced Songaila to guard Ron Artest, which failed miserably.  I'm not sure why Eddie felt a three-guard lineup would work when Houston had Artest, Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes.  Eddie probably felt he needed to get Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison rest, but he could have rotated one of those two in there.  He could have put Caron in for Juan, then subbed Jamison for Caron or something.  There was no need to keep both of those two out at the same time.

Anyway, Houston made their run and tied the game.  Needing offense, Eddie decided to keep Juan Dixon in the game with his starters.  I was really angry at Juan last night and probably took it out a little too much on KShark28 in the game thread (sorry dude, though next time, be more constructive with your comments instead of calling people out).  But the thing is, Juan is going to do what Juan is going to do.  Ever since he entered the league, Juan Dixon has been a remarkably inefficient small shooting guard that is a poor passer and uses a zillion possessions.  During the first three games of the season, he flashed the ability to be a Roger Mason-like lead guard in the Princeton, but that promise has faded.  If he's playing the entire fourth quarter on your team, you either suck or have a coach that thinks way too much.  In this case, it was both.  We have no guard depth, and Eddie would have been better served playing AD or even Dee Brown.  Hell, if Eddie wanted a scorer in, Nick Young was sitting on the bench.

Juan Dixon ended seven fourth quarter possessions with shots.  Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combined to end six.  Even for Dixon, this is unacceptable.  Our defense really killed us down the stretch, but our offense was just as bad.  It was just as bad because Juan Dixon kept taking whatever shot Houston wanted him to take.  It's Juan's fault for doing that, Eddie's fault for not taking him out of the game and the two leaders' faults for not screaming at him. 

Anyway, even though the ending was terrible, the important thing is we played well on the whole.  Losing a ton of close games in a row is bad luck that'll turn around.  I'd be much more concerned if we were Oklahoma City and getting blown out of every game.  So far this year, we've only been blown out twice.  Every other game has gone down to the wire.  I'm confident we'll at least win a few of these types of games soon.

More notes:

  • JaVale McGee needs to put on some weight.  Yao really abused him strength-wise down low, including slamming one down on him with authority.  I'm not concerned, though.  Every rookie has a tough game, and this was JaVale's.  He'll grow and learn from it.
  • I actually thought AD played really well in this one.  He was drawing defenders and giving his teammates open shots, which is how he has to be in this offense.  AD gets into trouble when he doesn't really make himself a factor offensively.  Then, nobody guards him and we play 4 on 5.  If AD is getting into the lane and making things happen, it makes our offense so much better.  It's like night and day, to be honest.
  • DeShawn Stevenson is a lost cause.  Three of 12 and bad defense on McGrady.  Eddie needs to try Caron at the two sometimes to limit DeShawn's minutes.
  • I would have liked to see Dominic McGuire get some run as long as we were going small and can't rebound. 
  • Hey Antawn, you see what happens when you eschew the jumpers and do yeoman's work inside?  27 points on 17 shots, 16 free throws, some great hustle, etc.  We must see more of that.
  • Not worried about Caron's bad game.  Ron Artest does that to you sometimes.
  • Houston needs to start Aaron Brooks yesterday.  He's much better than Rafer Alston