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Morning tip: Figuring out how to win on road remains hurdle for Wizards

Morning tip: Figuring out how to win on road remains hurdle for Wizards

As good as the opening 12 minutes were for the Wizards, the third quarter vs. the Houston Rockets turned out to be a disaster that flipped the momentum of the game. A loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the second game of a back-to-back tonight would constitute two steps back but they're still in a good spot to get back to .500.

The Wizards, who have won eight in a row at Verizon Center, are just 3-11 on the road after Monday's 101-91 loss vs. a potent offensive team.

"We play for 48 minutes at home," said John Wall, who had 18 points and 12 assists for his 21st double-double. "On the road we play for 24 minutes sometimes, sometimes 32. We got to play for the full 48. When we figure that out, when we don't have the crowd behind us on the road and we're not making shots we still got to defend at a high level."

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (16-17) with 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting but he could've had more had he looked more for his shot. There were opportunities as the Rockets were slow to close him out on pindowns from Marcin Gortat. 

The Wizards held them to 14 points in the first quarter, a season low, but the outcome turned after halftime when Washington lost a 53-41 lead. 

"I thought we had too many mitsakes defensively and they capitalized with threes. I think they made seven threes in that quarter. Then we had six turnovers," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "The combination of both those things happening created that 37-17 quarter. I thought we played a pretty good game throughout the game. You just take away seven or eight minutes in that third quarter."

The lead quickly evaporated because of the giveaways. The Wizards had 17 that led to 15 points for Houston which isn't noted for its defensive prowess. But to start the third quarter there was no rhythm to the Wizards' offense because of the uneven sets in the halfcourt. The transition buckets dried up as well.

"We didn't come out with the same intensity offensively. We knew there was going to be a time in the game when they were going to make shots," Wall said. "We weren't being as aggressive. They were trying to trap me and Brad and get the ball out of our hands."

As well as the Wizards' bench has played in recent games, including 50 points in a blowout of the Brooklyn Nets last weekend, they needed more from them than 13 points against an elite West team. Eric Gordon, a starter for his career until he signed with Houston as a free agent, had 31 of the Rockets' 42. He made 6 of 12 from deep.

"Sometimes we would rotate for no reason. Be in the lane when we shouldn't have been," said Beal. "We gave up some easy catch-and-shoot threes that anybody in the league can make."

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards loss to Rockets]

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James Harden, Rockets offer ultimate test for Trevor Ariza, Wizards' three-point defense

James Harden, Rockets offer ultimate test for Trevor Ariza, Wizards' three-point defense

Much of the reasoning for why the Wizards traded for veteran forward Trevor Ariza this past weekend was to plug the holes in their three-point defense. After 31 games this season, Washington ranks 26th among NBA teams in three-pointers allowed per game and 27th in opponents three-point percentage.

On Wednesday, the Wizards will receive the ultimate test for their revamped perimeter defense in the Houston Rockets. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

The Rockets are not simply a good three-point shooting team in the context of this era, they rival some of the best outside shooting teams of all-time. Their 14 threes made per game are top in the NBA and are tied for the third-most in league history. 

The top two teams ever in made threes were also the Rockets. They set the all-time record in 2016-17 with 14.4, then beat their own mark last season with 15.3 threes per game.

It's a similar story for threes attempted. Houston leads the league with 41.1 three-point shots per game. That would rank second all-time behind only last season's Rockets (42.3/g) and ahead of the third-most ever (40.3) set by Houston the year before.

The difference this season has been their percentage. After ranking 13th in the NBA last year at 36.2 percent, this time they are shooting just 33.9 percent, good for 24th. Still, no team takes or makes more threes, and the Wizards will be charged with stopping them.

The Wizards know the Rockets' three-point shooting prowess well. Houston has made at least 12 threes in the last seven meetings between the teams. Four times in that span, they have hit 15 threes or more. No team has done that more often against the Wizards since the start of the 2015-16 season. Considering they play each other only twice a year as members of different conferences, that is telling.

Ariza is also familiar with what the Rockets are capable of. After leaving Washington in free agency in the summer of 2014, he signed with Houston and spent four seasons there before joining the Suns this past summer. He was a key cog in the Rockets' 65-win team last season, as they fell one win short of the NBA Finals.

The Wizards and Rockets also saw each other less than a month ago in Washington. The Wizards pulled off a 135-131 victory in overtime, one of their best wins of the season, even with Houston off to a disappointing start. 

Chris Paul didn't play in that game, but James Harden dropped 54 points and Eric Gordon and Clint Capela were a handful. John Wall had 36 points and 11 assists and Bradley Beal put in 32 points, as well as some timely defense down the stretch on Harden. He helped force several of Harden's 11 turnovers.

Now comes the rematch, this time with the Rockets fresh off four straight wins and with Paul set to play. It won't be easy beating Houston twice in one season, something they haven't done as a franchise since 1988-89. Perhaps Ariza can help make the difference.


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Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Three weeks removed from back surgery to take care of his nagging gluteal injury, Dwight Howard rejoined the Washington Wizards for their Tuesday night contest with the Atlanta Hawks inside State Farm Arena. 

"Physically, I'm a lot better than I was before the surgery. The nine games I played, I basically played on one leg. So, you know, I'm just happy that that's out the way and I can rehab and get ready for the second half of the season," Howard told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. 

During those nine games, the 33-year-old averaged 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, while shooting over 62% from the floor. 

Howard is no stranger to back surgery. In 2012, the then Orlando Magic center underwent a procedure to repair a herniated disk which ended his season and took him out of Summer Olympics (London) participation. 

The veteran now deals with a slow recovery process before returning to basketball activities. 

Right now, the only I can do for rehab is just walk. Anybody who has had back surgery, they understand that. You know, for the first month and a half, you can't lift weights. You can't run. You can't do anything but basically walk. 

Howard plans to remain in Atlanta for rehab. Three weeks ago, Washington said it would re-evaluate Howard after two or three months. 

"Every day I try to sit down, and you know, spend at least an hour visualizing, you know, getting healthy, but also returning to the court."