- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Washington Wizards can sit their young players on Pluto if they want, but it won’t make any difference if they are outplayed the way they were last night.

A day after Washington rearranged the locker room to improve the focus of rookies Nick Young and Dominic McGuire and third-year player Andray Blatche, all of the Wizards looked jumbled as the Houston Rockets won 92-84 last night at Verizon Center.

“What we didn’t have doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “They had a little bit more energy, a little more team effort. They felt good. They were in a groove.”

Washington placed six players in double figures, with Antawn Jamison leading the way with 14 points. But the Rockets, playing without injured leading scorer Tracy McGrady, shot the ball better (47.8 percent to 41.1 percent) and dominated the Wizards on the boards (46-28).

The Rockets — winners of five straight — opened the season with a 6-1 record but had gone 11-16 since entering last night’s game.

McGrady has not played since Dec. 23 because of a knee injury, but Houston more than compensated for his absence last night.

Guard Luther Head paced the Rockets, who have won three straight, with a season-high 24 points. Center Yao Ming recorded 21 points and nine rebounds. Guard Rafer Alston finished with 15 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.

Young and center Brendan Haywood finished with 13 points apiece as Washington fell to 17-16.

The Rockets held the Wizards at bay for most of the night, keeping their lead in double digits for the better part of the second half.

And whenever the Wizards rallied, Houston answered with a run of its own.

“Tonight we were a step slow, not picking up the loose balls, bumping into each other and turning the ball over. It was just collectively not a good night,” Jamison said.

After the Wizards got back-to-back baskets from Young and Blatche to pull to within 80-73 with 7:20 to play, Alston and Head responded with 3-pointers. Head’s 3-pointer pushed the Houston lead to 89-76 and sealed the Wizards’ fate.

Washington struggles when both Jamison and Caron Butler have rough nights, and last night Rockets forward Shane Battier hounded Butler relentlessly. Butler finished with 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

“He’s one of the most underrated players in the league,” Battier said of Butler. “I just had to work against him and make him think about some things on the defensive side of the ball.”

Down by 12 points early in the second quarter, the Wizards narrowed a 38-26 Houston lead with a 12-2 run.

But with a little more than five minutes to play in the half, the Wizards’ offense stalled. Houston outscored them 12-5 the rest of the way for a 52-43 lead at the half.

Washington’s lackluster first-half defense carried over into the third quarter, and as a result the team failed to cut into the Rockets’ advantage.

With Head pouring in 10 more points and the Rockets connecting on 10 of 16 field goals, the Wizards only got as close as 65-59 on a pair of free throws by DeShawn Stevenson with 4:09 left in the quarter.

Wizards Report

Last night at Verizon Center

SEEN AND HEARD

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs’ resignation resonated with Roger Mason.

The one player on the Wizards’ roster with local ties — he graduated from Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, and his stepfather was former Redskins running back Otis Wonsley — Mason first met Gibbs at Redskin Park while he was a member of his high school football team.

The two struck up a relationship that remains strong to this day.

“I talked to him when I went to high school and college, and I talked to him when I made my decision to leave college early [for the NBA],” said Mason, who often attends Redskins games. “Obviously he’s a great coach, but he’s also a great Christian man. My stepdad respects him so much. You don’t replace a guy like that. He’s a Hall of Famer. He means more than wins and losses.”

BY THE NUMBERS

46 Rebounds for the Rockets compared to only 28 for the Wizards. Houston finished with 13 offensive rebounds, five more than Washington.

John N. Mitchell

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