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Takeaways from Wizards' blown lead in road loss to Rockets

Takeaways from Wizards' blown lead in road loss to Rockets

The goal to keep James Harden in check worked almost to perfection for the Wizards even though he still had his third consecutive triple-double, but they had no answer for Eric Gordon as the Houston Rockets erased a 15-point deficit to win 101-91 on Monday at Toyota Center.

The Rockets (27-9) win the season series 2-0 and the Wizards (16-17) open a two-game road trip with a hard-fought loss that easily could’ve been a victory.

Bradley Beal (27 points) led Washington followed by John Wall (18 points, 12 assists, five rebounds), Markieff Morris (12 points, eight rebounds, three assists) and Marcin Gortat (13 points, 14 rebounds). Otto Porter (eight points) only shot 4-for-12 from the field.

Harden (23 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds) wasn’t effective early but Eric Gordon (31 points) set his season-high to lead the Rockets shooting 12-for-39 from three-point range. Montrezl Harrell (14 points, nine rebounds) and Trevor Ariza (10 points) also chipped in.

The Wizards play Tuesday at the Dallas Mavericks.

--Beal played after missing the last game with a right ankle sprain and did his best to keep the Wizards alive late. The only player to make a three for the Wizards other than Beal was Marcus Thornton (seven points). They were 6-for-26 overall.

--Morris went mostly uncovered and couldn’t make them. Neither could Porter or Gortat. The Rockets sometimes botched coverages on threes and were willing to sacrifice two-pointers by having Anderson defend a 6-11 center in the low post for long stretches. Gortat had a good boxscore game, but he could've/should've done more damage. Porter scored 12 points fewer than he did in the first meeting, a 114-106 loss on Nov. 7, when he was defended a lot by Harden. 

--Gordon outscored the Wizards’ bench alone which had just 13 points. Kelly Oubre’s main responsibility, however, was guarding Harden and not scoring. He had seven rebounds and two steals, one of which led to Morris getting out in transition for a dunk to tie the score at 82 in the fourth. 

--The lead got away from the Wizards to start the third with four turnovers by 8:35. Those empty possessions plus Gordon's threes put the Rockets back in it (he shot 6-for-12 for the game). It wasn’t until late in the third that Harden made his first three, in transition off a make by Washington, to trim the deficit to 66-65. The Rockets shot 7-for-10 from three in the third which proved to be the turning point.

--Nene (nine points) was key to the comeback. The Rockets weren’t as effective with the pick-and-roll with Harden and Anderson. Nene entered, converted and covered the rim. Out of timeout, Nene’s dunk off a feed from Harden gave Houston its first lead 67-66. Nene blocked Porter on a drive to deny a dunk, popped for a mid-range jumper and then had a layup for a 71-66 lead in a 9-0 run. The Rockets led 78-70 entering the fourth.

--Harden only had six points in the first half when he shot 2-for-11 and their switches had a lot to do with it. Beal and Morris were especially connected and didn’t put him on the foul line. Harden only attempted two fouls shots in the first 24 minutes. Beal was able to close out Anderson in a switch with Morris to force the ball out of his hands (and not bite the shot fake) to force a shot-clock violation. All of this was set up by ball pressure. Although the Rockets will launch shots from anywhere, they weren’t able to step into threes as easily as they’d like. Harden, however, finished 9 of 10 from the foul line which is how he broke the 20-point mark despite being 6-for-24 shooting.

--The Rockets were held to a season-low 14 points in first quarter. They were 0-for-8 on three-point shots and didn’t have any makes from the foul line. They only had 41 at halftime, which was seven fewer than the lowest output for December when the Wizards went 10-5. The Rockets shot 2-for-17 shooting from three in the first 24 minutes. The first-half season low by the Wizards for an opponent is 38 vs. the Orlando Magic on Nov. 25.

RELATED: Wizards develop real home-court edge

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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