- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Every year, NBA teams vow in training camp to play at a faster pace for the upcoming season. But for the Washington Wizards in their home opener, that declaration became a reality.

The Wizards engaged in an up-and-down track meet Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, but they fell in a 159-158 loss at Capital One Arena.

Despite scoring 158 points — their most since 1990 — the Wizards couldn’t stop Houston Rockets star James Harden, who had a game-high 59 points.

Harden sunk a go-ahead free throw with 2.4 seconds left to steal the victory.

Washington, too, had a lead with 48 seconds left, but Houston stole it when star point guard Russell Westbrook converted an and-1 opportunity just moments later. Shortly later, Bradley Beal tied the game with three foul shots with eight seconds left. But Harden rushed down the floor and drew a foul, making one of two.

On a night when the majority of the District was hoping the Nationals beat the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series, the Wizards couldn’t prevail against Houston in basketball.

Beal scored 46 points, Thomas Bryant had a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) and rookie Rui Hachimura scored 23 points.

In the fourth, the Wizards briefly pulled away, opening up a 12-point lead with 10:47 left. The Rockets, though, clawed back behind James and Westbrook.

This offseason, the Wizards engaged in a rebuild, bringing in a number of young players under general manager Tommy Sheppard. Washington understood there would be nights when the players would have to work through their mistakes, but it also thought the team had the chance to play a more entertaining style. Coach Scott Brooks used phrases like “play hard and play for each other” in interviews with reporters.

That effort was apparent in the first.

The Wizards opened the game with good energy to match Houston’s star power. Hachimura, the Japanese first-rounder who addressed the crowd pre-game with Beal, attacked the rim and scored eight points in the first. Washington’s bench, too, helped the Wizards stay competitive. Big men Davis Bertans and Mortiz Wagner helped the Wizards take advantage of Houston’s smaller lineup, and Houston led only 35-34 at the end of the quarter.

Like the Wizards, the Rockets underwent drastic change over the summer— trading away star Chris Paul to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook. By doing so, Houston re-united Harden and Westbrook in the backcourt after the two spent three seasons together at the beginning of their career with the Thunder.

Westbrook, however, was largely held in the first half. He didn’t score his first point until 2:44 in the first half and only finished with 17 points.

Over the first half, the Wizards kept their foot on the gas. The two teams traded baskets in the second, with Beal sprinting down the court to make a layup with less than a second left as the Wizards took a 77-76 lead.

But the Wizards fell apart in the fourth quarter and lost for the third time this season.

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