- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

HOUSTON — Perhaps it was the wide open spaces in Texas, or having friends and family in the stands. Whatever the case, being back in his hometown of Houston had a positive effect on Emeka Okafor.

In his best game of the season by far, the Washington Wizards center topped his previous season-high of 17 with 19 points and six rebounds.

Okafor’s inspired performance was a nice change for Wizards fans who have seen Okafor struggle with his consistency. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who defeated the Wizards 99-93 on Wednesday at the Toyota Center.

“Shots just fell tonight,” Okafor said. “[I] came with the mindset, like, ‘Alright. Trying to get a win, try to make it two in a row.”

The Wizards (3-16) come home to face the Los Angeles Lakers at Verizon Center on Friday and the Heat in Miami on Saturday.

It was another slow start for the Wizards, who scored just 17 points in the first quarter, but still an improvement over their Tuesday start in New Orleans, when they scored a season-low 11 points. By halftime in Houston, they were down just three to the Rockets, 45-42.

The Wizards relied on a strong performance by rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal who had 20 points and six assists and a gutsy performance by Nene, who doesn’t relish playing consecutive nights with his ailing left foot. Nene had 13 points and nine rebounds.

“It’s hard really because we always have chances to win,” said Jordan Crawford (17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists). “We got two big ones coming up and we want to play well.”

The Rockets were led by their prized offseason acquisition, guard James Harden, formerly part of the Big Three with the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Harden, 23, is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic Team, and played in the NBA Finals last season against the Heat, who went on to the win the NBA title.

Harden got off to a blistering start, and had the same number of points at the end of the first quarter, 17, as the entire Wizards team. Harden finished the game with 31 points and shot 50 percent from the floor. Point guard Jeremy Lin, Houston’s other prized offseason acquisition isn’t quite the sensation he was last year when he played for the New York Knicks and the term “Linsanity” was coined to describe his sudden meteoric fame.

Lin and Harden are learning to mesh together in the backcourt, with Harden the as the scorer and Lin the facilitator. Lin finished the game with 10 points and six assists.

For the Wizards, the tale of two squads again reared its ugly head. The starters played well, with four of the five scoring in double figures except Chris Singleton who was held scoreless on 0 for 7 from the floor. But the bench had a rough night with only Nene making any kind of offensive contribution. Wizards coach Randy Wittman used just nine players.

“[We’ve] got to play more inside-out,” Wittman said. “We just [take] too many tough, bad shots sometimes. We’ve got to move the ball and we don’t and that gets you in trouble when you fall in a hole. So, we’ll correct those things. We’re going to get out of here one of these days with a 50 percent shooting night.”

Defensively, the Wizards managed to hold Houston, the league’s third highest scoring team, to less than their average (104.5), but the Rockets also give up more points on average (105.4) than they score. But the Wizards came nowhere near that mark and remained the worst team in the league.

“There were moments when we just didn’t make shots,” Beal said. “I think we were getting the stops that we wanted, making them take the shots that we wanted as well. Its was a game of runs. Sometimes the other team goes on a bigger run than you do.”