Well, that was an emotional rollercoaster of a game. The Wizards came out flat (as always seems to happen this season after a big win) and found themselves trailing by as much as 15 in the first quarter. Somewhat understandably, Randy Wittman eschewed the tiny ball lineups with Jared Dudley at center that we have come accustomed to seeing over the past few games, instead using an undersized lineup featuring Ramon Sessions, Bradley Beal, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and putback tip-in specialist Otto Porter cut the lead down to as little as 7. Defensively, the Wizards fell back into bad habits of over-helping on and communicating poorly on pick and rolls.
Thankfully for Washington, Houston played messy as well, turning the ball over 8 times in the half, failing to win on the boards despite their height advantage, and looking disorganized in transition. Harden, despite a brilliant offensive performance (19 points in the half), passed the ball to empty space twice, and the Wizards ended the half trailing by 9. The final 59 seconds of the game included a combined five turnovers from both teams.
The third quarter looked like it was played by a completely different team. Jared Dudley had two steals and a three, John Wall blocked Harden, got out in transition and scored on a beautiful alley-oop from Beal. The defense tightened up, and the Wizards feasted in transition. Wall seemed to create a new highlight play every trip down the floor, and Houston looked ready to melt down.
James Harden still did James Harden things, getting to the free throw line and hitting fadeaways despite Beal basically sitting in his lap. That kept the game close, and unfortunately all it took was some cold fourth quarter shooting to break the Wizards' rhythm. Their three point defense, despite a few fantastic possessions (I kid you not, the 2015-16 Wizards triple teamed and recovered), was mostly bad. The Wiz couldn’t get their own threes to fall, and Houston punished them in transition.The Rockets got contributions from Jason Terry, Patrick Beverley, and Marcus Thornton, and Harden carried them home at the free throw line.
Stat lines of note
Wall continued to play at an All-Star level tonight, with 26 points (12-26 shooting), 12 assists, 9 rebounds and 3 steals. Marcin Gortat had 18 and 13 in his first game back after missing the last three.
Some lingering questions
Why did Jared Dudley sit for the 4th quarter?
After playing a pivotal role in the Wizards third quarter comeback, Jared Dudley didn't play a minute in the fourth. Wittman's closing lineup consisted of Wall, Beal, Neal, Porter and Gortat.
Where is Bradley Beal?
Beal had an uninspiring 15 points on 5-15 shooting to go along with 7 turnovers. He looked to be having a breakout season before getting injured in mid-November, but in the 11 games he's played since returning he is shooting just 41 percent from the field and 34 percent from three (compared to 48 and 47 percent in 6 games pre-injury).