- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

HOUSTON — Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan envisioned directing an energized group of players following the All-Star break that would run past other teams and play great defense.

Unfortunately for Jordan, the Houston Rockets were the only team showing any energy last night.

Houston ran past listless Washington 107-81 in a game that was so uncompetitive the Rockets’ starters spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench slapping hands as the reserves made sure the Wizards would tie their mark for their biggest loss of the season.

“I felt we just didn’t have the leadership that we needed from everyone,” Jordan said. “We needed a little bit more morale booster from everyone. That’s what we need to have for the next 31 games. But it was a very poor performance from our starters and a very sincere effort from our bench. Let’s see if we can correct some of that.”

The good news is that they’ll quickly get that opportunity when they play at New Orleans tonight. The bad news is that New Orleans is probably playing better than Houston (31-22) right now.

It was not a good way to start the second half of the season. The Rockets had a season-high 34 assists on 44 field goals, shattering their previous high of 27, which also came in a victory over the Wizards. It is the most assists for the Rockets since they had 34 on March23, 2000. Conversely, the Wizards had 16 assists on their 29 field goals.

Houston capitalized on 23 Washington (16-35) turnovers, converting them into 38 points.

“Very few nights in this league is it easy,” said diplomatic Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Tonight, for whatever reason, it wasn’t as difficult as most nights.”

Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas, who finished with 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting, was more succinct.

“They beat the [stuff] out of us,” Arenas said.

It wasn’t particularly hard to do when every starter with the exception of Brendan Haywood (11 points, eight rebounds, no turnovers) commits at least three turnovers, or when the starting lineup shoots a wretched 15-for-46 from the field.

Washington was led by reserve center Etan Thomas, who finished with 13 points. Steve Blake came off the bench to score 12 for the Wizards, who made 40.8 percent of their shots while Houston shot a crisp 54.3 percent.

Jim Jackson paced Houston with 17 points, Yao Ming added 16, and Kelvin Cato finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wizards have now lost 14 of their last 15 road games, and have yet to win a road game this season against a team from either the Atlantic (0-8) or Midwest (0-5) divisions.

The Wizards went into the All-Star break five games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, a fact that is more a byproduct of the horrible play in the conference than the Wizards being competitive.

In fact, with 31 games remaining in the season and the Wizards widely regarded as one of the three worst teams in the league along with Orlando and Chicago, it is probably more reasonable for them to start keeping an eye on their position in the upcoming lottery.

Before the All-Star break the Wizards had their hopes dashed of winning three consecutive games for the first time in a 25-point loss to Philadelphia.

That would appear to have provided enough motivation for the Wizards to come out firing on offense and playing aggressive defensive.

Wrong.

The Rockets began by making 75 percent of their shots from the field in the first quarter. They closed the first outscoring the Wizards 16-2 to lead 30-18. It was never a game after that.

Wizards rookie Jarvis Hayes, who suffered a sprained ankle in the Rookie Challenge game during the All-Star break, played last night with a visible limp.

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