The Houston Rockets (27-9) and the Washington Wizards (16-17) are both coming off of great Decembers. The Rockets went 15-2 in the month of December, while the Wizards were rolling with a 10-5 month. Both teams ended the calendar year on nice little win streaks. There were some great storylines coming into this matchup. Rockets guard James Harden and Wizards guard John Wall were named the Western Conference and Eastern Conference players of the week, respectively. Harden was fresh off a record-breaking 53-point, 17-assist, and 16-rebound triple-double on New Year’s Eve, the first player in NBA history to record to a 50-point/15-assist/15-rebound triple-double.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni’s free-flowing offense wreaked havoc on Scott Brooks’ Wizards. Eric Gordon led all scorers in the game, pouring in season-high 31 points off the Rockets’ bench. After being held to only 6 points in the first half, going 3-of-11 on field goals and 0-for-5 from three-point range, James Harden would get his third straight triple-double and ninth triple-double of the season with 23 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Despite the slow start, Harden continued to prove why he is one of the early favorites in the MVP race.

For the Wizards, Bradley Beal, who was a game-time decision for this one after suffering a sprained ankle last week against the Pacers, continued his All-Star level of play, going for 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting. Beal’s backcourt mate in John Wall would notch another double-double with 18 points and 12 assists. Marcin Gortat also chipped in with 13 points and 14 rebounds in the loss, which also dropped Washington to a disappointing 3-11 on the road this season as the team continues to struggle away from home.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

A Tale of Two Halves

Washington would control the entire first half of the game. An early 9-0 run by the Wizards saw them jump out to an early 15-6 lead, which set the tone for the first two quarters of the game. Washington managed to hold Houston to a season-low 14 points in the first quarter. The Wizards were showing solid effort on both ends of the court in the first half, going into halftime with a 41-27 lead over the Rockets, and characterized by impressive plays like this:

In the third quarter, however, Houston came right out swinging. The Rockets started the second half on an 11-2 run that would set the tone for the remainder of the game. Houston would outscore Washington 37-17 in the third. After being held to 17/44 on field goals – 38.6 percent – in the first half, the Rockets’ offense would explode in the second half and bury the Wizards. Scott Brooks’ team had no answer for Eric Gordon, who seemed to get whatever he wanted wherever he wanted on the floor.

Washington’s second half would be characterized by high turnovers, both forced and unforced, as well as cold shooting from the field. The Wizards bench also struggled mightily in this one. Despite a nice showing early in the game, Washington’s bench ended up getting outscored by the Rockets bench 42-13. The Harden and Nene pick-and-roll also proved very difficult for the Wizards to defend, as well. To add insult to injury,

Three-Point Shooting is Not for Everyone

One of the Rockets primary strengths is their three-point shooting. Houston averages 39.7 attempted 3-pointers per game, with an average of 15.1 made field-goals on the season. After going only 2-of-17 in the first half from downtown, the Rockets would go 10-for-22 in the second half from 3-point range. Eric Gordon was the spark off the bench that led the team at 6-of-12 from three-point range.

Meanwhile, the Wizards are not a great three-point shooting (or three-point defending) team. They finished the night going 6-of-26 from behind the arc, led by Bradley Beal, who went 5-of-10 from three. Washington got caught up in the second half trying to out-shoot the Rockets. Whenever the Rockets made a big run and started hitting their shots from beyond the arc, the Wizards panicked and tried to answer back from three, but their shots just were not falling in the second half. Instead of making smart plays trying to drive to the basket and either go for easy layups or draw fouls, the Wizards instead settled for tough jumpers and bad shots from range. Too many of those poor possessions just allowed to Rockets to maintain the lead.

A Closer Game than the Score Might Suggest

All things considered, the stats for this game were relatively even. The Wizards shot 43.7 percent from the field on 38-of-87 shooting, while the Rockets also shot 43 percent from the field, on 37-of-86 shooting. The Wizards also won the rebounding battle 45-41 over the Rockets. Washington also had 48 points in the paint versus Houston’s 42. With 2:45 left in the fourth, the Rockets were still only up 89-84. The differences really came down to the Wizards losing the turnover battle, as well as the aforementioned three-point shooting. These two teams have a tendency to play each other pretty close in general, Houston just managed to close out more effectively than Washington.

Final Thoughts

The Wizards had hoped this would be a statement game that would serve to put the NBA on notice. Instead, they sputtered late and got a wake-up call that they still have a long road ahead of them. The Rockets, on the other hand, continued to show why they are a force to be reckoned with in the NBA, fighting all the way back from a 15-point deficit to win by 10 points.

The Wizards will continue their short road trip on Tuesday night when they visit the Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets will play again on Thursday when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder in a nationally televised game on TNT.

About The Author

Darrin Burrell is a life-long fan of the NBA. He has a been a fan of the Washington Bullets/Wizards his whole life, he grew up playing basketball, and considers himself a true student of all aspects of the game. Darrin currently resides in the Washington, DC area.

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