- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

ROCKETS 99, WIZARDS 89

HOUSTON The adage that teams can't just turn it on and off whenever they want clearly doesn't stand when the opposition is the Washington Wizards. That's exactly what the Houston Rockets did last night.

In winning their fourth game in a row, the Rockets spent the entire second half alternating between running away from the Wizards and letting them back in the game. Eventually, they put away the not-so-feisty Wizards 99-89 in front of 11,384 at the Compaq Center.

At 26-25, Houston provides another seeming example of the superiority of the Western Conference this year. Last night's win improved Houston's record against the Eastern Conference to 15-3, including victories over Philadelphia and New York right before the All-Star break.

The Rockets took control of the game late in the second quarter with an 11-1 run. After that, Houston looked as if it could have done anything it wanted against the Wizards (12-38), which, ultimately, it did. At one point the Wizards trimmed a 15-point lead to 82-75 with 8:16 left in the game, but following a timeout former Maryland star Steve Francis who led all scorers with 29 points nailed back-to-back 3-pointers.

The Wizards, meanwhile, shot just 35 percent from the field (32-for-90).

"We need to get everybody in the flow; we need to get different guys touches," Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We need to find out who has the hot hand and go to him. Tonight we had some good looks that didn't fall. From that point on we didn't continue to trust each other. We didn't allow our offense to work for us."

That wasn't hard to figure out last night, especially after the Wizards hit just 14 field goals in the second half. Meanwhile, the Rockets scored with ease, with all of Houston's starters finishing with at least 15 points. Aging center Hakeem Olajuwon turned back the clock against the Wizards, finishing with 15 points, a season-high 20 rebounds, three blocks and four steals. Shandon Anderson added 17 points, and Cuttino Mobley and Maurice Taylor each had 16 points.

Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 24 points. Juwan Howard finished with 15 points but made just five of 15 shots from the floor. Popeye Jones came off the bench to score a season-high 10 points and pull down a season-high 13 rebounds.

Adding injury to insult, the Wizards are uncertain of the status of point guard Chris Whitney. The Wizards' gritty point guard turned both of his ankles, and he had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter. With reserve point guard Rod Strickland not on the trip, which picks up again in San Antonio tomorrow and moves to Dallas on Saturday, the Wizards' outlook at the start of the second half of the season is gloomy at best.

"It's gotten a lot worse," Whitney said about his multiple injuries. "Before they would only bother me if I did something on the court. But now they're in constant pain… . It's gotten worse."

That wasn't the only bad news for the Wizards. Center Calvin Booth flew home earlier in the day after an X-ray revealed that the left-hander had floating particles in his left elbow.

Although Booth hasn't been putting up big numbers, he and Jahidi White who was reinserted as the starter last night have formed a nice tandem at center. Neither does anything spectacular, but together they bring a mix of physicality (White) and subtlety (the slender Booth) that has worked well for the Wizards.

Already playing short-handed, the Wizards led after one quarter, but the highlight was a 69-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer by Mobley that closed the score to 27-25.

The second quarter was not as kind to Washington. After shooting 46 percent from the floor in the first quarter, the Wizards unearthed one of the horrible shooting performances they hoped to leave behind in the first half of the season. The Wizards hit just six field goals in the second quarter and shot just 30 percent.

Francis took advantage of the Wizards' bout of offensive ineptitude and helped his team take the lead with nine points in the quarter. Houston went ahead on Anderson's fastbreak layup with 1:56 left in the half, part of the run that gave the Rockets a 54-47 halftime lead.

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