The Wizards apparently left their energy, passion and moxie on the West Coast.
They returned home yesterday to play a team that is going nowhere and could muster only the slightest resistance. They allowed a nothing team, the Rockets, to leave the building with a 102-89 victory.
The Wizards could have saved everyone a good amount of time, money and aggravation by taking a personal day. It was a national holiday anyway.
Along Fun Street, it turned out to be a homecoming celebration in honor of Moochie Norris, Steve Francis and Terence Morris. Maybe the Wizards should have given all three the key to the city before the game. That would have been preferable to giving them, Norris and Francis in particular, so much room to maneuver.
Norris, a product of Cardozo High School who has played in a zillion places, some of them barely on the map, finished with 15 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. With a homecoming performance like that one, who needs the Fort Wayne Fury?
The Rockets, no doubt, are a stronger team when Francis is healthy. They even might be a borderline playoff team instead of the team nursing an 18-34 record because of Francis’ absence in 21 games.
Yet if you are the Wizards and you have had 61 hours to recover from Phoenix and you are at home and you have playoff concerns, you are obligated to beat the Rockets.
The Wizards used up their margin for error at home in November, when they lost to the Warriors, Sonics, Bucks, Jazz and Hornets en route to a 2-9 start.
“I didn’t think our guys had a lot of energy,” Wizards coach Doug Collins said. “It’s going to happen.”
The 82-game schedule lends itself to those games when the head is willing but the body is not. The Wizards already have endured a number of those games this season, notably the no-show game in New Jersey last month, in which the Nets led 43-18 after 12 minutes.
Those games tend to happen on the road, because everything is different on the road, from the officiating to the shooting background in the arena to the crowd that is hostile to the living arrangements. Well-conditioned bodies don’t respond well to recycled air at 35,000 feet, a change in diet and a hotel bed.
Not all 82 games are equal, with a few meaning more than others.
Collins points to two games that enabled the Wizards to rectify their early wrongs: the overtime victory over the Celtics at home in November after the team had squandered a 15-point lead and the road victory in Philadelphia four days later following the “we stink” game in Cleveland.
Now this one with the Rockets means more than it should have because of the burden it places on the Wizards during a busy stretch.
The Wizards were so out of it against the Rockets, so lethargic, they couldn’t mount a surge in the fourth quarter, pulling no closer than seven points. They eventually forgot to pass the ball to Michael Jordan, who, despite the fluid build-up in his right knee, embraced the function of point forward with a team-high 11 assists.
On consecutive possessions midway through the fourth period, the Wizards dumped the ball to Jordan in the low post and he managed to get Tyrone Nesby an open 3-point attempt and Richard Hamilton an open look from 18 feet. If Nesby had converted his shot, it would have cut the Rockets’ lead to four points and perhaps raised a sense of doubt in the visitors. Inexplicably, the Wizards never went back to Jordan after those two possessions and wound up scoring only eight points in the last six-plus minutes.
By then, the Rockets were feeling awfully good after being encouraged by the Wizards to be a jump-shooting team. The Rockets might have thought they were playing h-o-r-s-e in the schoolyard at times, so alone were they on the perimeter. Kenny Thomas seemingly was able to check the weather conditions before shooting the ball from the outside early in the game. The same could be said with Cuttino Mobley, who scored a game-high 31 points.
It was a hurtful performance by the home team, and costly in the jumbled Eastern Conference.
With Jordan expected to sit out the game in Detroit tomorrow night and the conference-leading Nets in town the next night, the Wizards picked a bad time to be inert.