HOUSTON — The momentum the Washington Wizards had hoped to seize from Monday night’s buzzer-beater victory over the New Orleans Hornets didn’t carry over during the hour and 45 minute flight to Houston yesterday. Instead, the Wizards got throttled 94-69 by the Rockets last night at Toyota Center.
The Rockets looked nothing like a team that had just learned it would have to play the rest of the season and playoffs without franchise player Yao Ming, who averaged 22.0 points and 10.8 rebounds before suffering a stress fracture in his foot.
And it wasn’t even Houston’s other star, Tracy McGrady, who stepped up to erase the news of losing Yao and extend its winning streak to 13 games.
It was Yao’s replacement, 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo, who set the tone early for the Rockets, and his teammates followed suit as five of them scored in double digits and held the Wizards (27-30) to their lowest offensive output of the season.
“You’ve got to give credit to Houston to respond that way after the announcement of Yao,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Usually, you go one of two ways. You play like they did tonight, or you just kind of feel sorry for yourselves. But they were popping. They played well. My hat’s off to coach [Rick] Adelman. It was just a great, great effort.”
Mutombo entered last night’s game having played in just 14 games this season, averaging 0.5 points and 2.4 rebounds. Before last night, Mutombo hadn’t played since logging four minutes Feb. 2. He hadn’t taken a shot since Jan. 5.
But the time off must have benefited Mutombo, who scored the first basket of the game and had two blocks in the first quarter. On the first, Wizards forward Andray Blatche drove the lane for a layup, but Mutombo swooped in and stuffed him.
Mutombo did his famous finger wag at Blatche, exciting the home crowd but drawing a technical foul call from the officials. Two minutes later Mutombo — who finished with four blocks — blocked Blatche again, but this time turned to the fans and wagged his finger, avoiding another technical.
Mutombo finished with four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes and forced the Wizards to change their shot selection numerous times. The Rockets fed off his energy and raced out to a 24-12 first quarter lead while shooting 64.7 percent from the field.
The Wizards took 27 shots in the first quarter — 10 more than the Rockets — but made only five. The 12 first-quarter points marked the lowest in an opening period this season for Washington.
“I think tonight was just a bad night for everybody,” said shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who finished with just five points on 2-for-12 shooting a night after scoring a career-high 33 points and hitting the game-winning shot over New Orleans. “We were rushing our shots. We weren’t running the offense like we normally run, and we let them get on top of us really quick, and we couldn’t get a rhythm after that.”
The Wizards, who also posted a season-low 11 assists, had a chance to get back into the game during a low-scoring third quarter by the Rockets.
Antawn Jamison scored 12 of his team’s 26 points, and Houston shot just 33.3 percent from the field for 17 points. But Washington’s mini-burst wasn’t enough, and the Rockets still led 68-49 after three quarters.
“We just took our time [in the third quarter],” Jamison said. “Even though we were out of it, you still gotta compete. You can’t throw in the towel. I just knew if I set the tone for my teammates on both ends of the court they would follow. We did a good job trimming the lead a little bit, but then towards the end of the third and the fourth, it just got worse and worse.”
Jamison finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Backup guard Nick Young scored 16 points, and fellow rookie Oleksiy Pecherov tallied a career-high 11 points.
Last night at Toyota Center, Houston
SEEN AND HEARD
The Houston Rockets may have announced earlier in the day that center Yao Ming was done for the season and playoffs with a stress fracture, but they still showed footage of the former No. 1 overall pick’s highlights from this season. The crowd gave a mixed response: cheers from the fans in support of the 7-foot-6 center, who was on the sidelines in a dark suit, and a smattering of boos from those bitter because he now has failed to play a full schedule the last three seasons. …
After hitting his first game-winning shot since high school to lift the Wizards over the Hornets on Monday night, DeShawn Stevenson received an extra dose of attention, earning the top highlight on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” top 10. Stevenson said his phone buzzed all night and estimated he received about 50 messages from friends and family. By beating the Hornets, the Wizards earned their first two-game winning streak since Jan. 21. The Wizards haven’t won three consecutive games since Jan. 14.
BY THE NUMBERS
31.3 Shooting percentage in the Wizards’ 94-69 loss to Houston, which marked its poorest performance this season.
— Mike Jones