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Rockets Avoid Trap, Top Wiz

HOUSTON - Toney Douglas has been around long enough to recognize this type of trap game when he sees it. So when the Rockets raced to an early 14-point lead over the woeful Washington Wizards only to see it rapidly dissipate amid a rash of turnovers and poor play, he fully understood what he was watching.

Every professional sports team talks all the time about playing to the level of the competition and the perils inherent within that approach. No club sets out to do it on purpose of course. To a certain extent, it’s only human nature to rise to the occasion when the big names and top teams arrive, and to relax and let up a bit when the cellar dwellers come calling.

That impulse, however, has to be fought and overcome. And though it took them more time than they’d like to do so, the Rockets ultimately did just that during a 99-93 win Wednesday night that was noticeably short on aesthetic appeal. With James Harden returning from injury to score 31 points and a big boost off the bench from Douglas, Houston overcame 18 turnovers and its own occasionally uninspired play to snap a three-game losing streak and improve its record against the Eastern Conference to 7-1.

“It’s a mindset,” said Douglas about how he’d like to see the Rockets approach games like this going forward. “This should be a fun game. When we get a lead of 15, take it to 20, take it to 25 and have everybody play. You don’t want to be struggling down to the end – that’s just tough.”

Yet that’s what Houston was forced to do when it was unable to build upon a strong first quarter that saw Harden match the Wizards point for point in the opening period with 17. After starting the second quarter strong, however, the Rockets regressed badly, turning the ball over nine times and allowing offensively inept Washington to rally to tie the game just before halftime. It was then that Douglas first made his presence felt, beating the buzzer just before the break with a 50-foot flick of the wrist that hit nothing but net, allowing Houston’s players and coaches at least a small degree of solace on the long walk back to the locker room.

Still, having been allowed to stick around, Washington refused to wilt the rest of the way. Strong interior play from local product Emeka Okafor and Nene kept the Wizards within arm’s length in the second half, forcing the Rockets to raise their level of play in the fourth quarter.

And in the final frame, Douglas and Chandler Parsons answered the call. Douglas did his damage early, scoring seven points in the first few minutes of the period to help Houston regain some much-needed breathing room. Parsons then seized the opportunity to slam the door at long last, shaking off a previously subpar shooting night to score 11 points in the quarter – eight of them coming in a critical 84-second span that effectively put the game on ice.

Having survived the Wizards’ trap, a relieved Douglas reflected upon the phenomenon he’s all too familiar with, and why it’s ultimately so important for his team to make sure it doesn’t succumb to such seemingly lackluster matchups in the future.   

“I’m four years in and I’ve seen it,” said Douglas, who has now scored in double-figures off the bench in five straight games. “When I was in New York, we played the Charlotte Bobcats and we messed around and laid an egg at home against them. Those type of games can cost you the playoffs down the stretch when you need that extra win or two. You’ve got to treat every team the same. No matter who we’re playing, we’ve got to treat every team like it’s the Lakers or the Celtics or the Heat because everybody’s in the NBA for a reason – everybody can play.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On team turnovers and Rockets energy) “We didn't take really good care of the ball. It's (turnovers) been a bug-a-boo for us all year. We just have to get better at that. I didn't think we had great energy. If we could get points early and get some shots going. James (Harden) was the only guy that kind of had a rhythm early in the game and we got some good looks but we didn't make them. That always drags us out. We have to learn how to play a little bit better and with more energy when we're not making shots.”

(On the return of James Harden) “He had 31 points. That's the kind of typical James game where he just makes plays and attacks. We had some things going where we had some drops and some passes back to our bigs and our bigs have got to go in there and finish strong, get fouled and make some plays around the rim,”

(On the defense) “I saw some signs. We had a couple of points of emphasis that we didn't get to tonight that we had worked on a little bit yesterday. We were trying to be a little bit more aggressive with our close-outs and contain the ball a little bit better and we saw a few blow-bys. We didn't have as many mistakes in the transition defense. We got back and got settled a little bit better but that's something that they'll work on a lot.”

We’re certainly not good enough to go out there and play to the level of our competition. We’ve got to play harder than that. We have to be a team that plays hard with energy, get stops, get out and run and one that does a lot of the small things that help us win. We’ve just got to be a team that goes out and competes hard every night regardless of who we play.

TONEY DOUGLAS

(you’ve been around long enough to know there are going to be games like this, where you just have to gut out a win and survive – what can you take from games likes these?)

It’s something we have to watch tomorrow on film. I’m four years in and I’ve seen it. When I was in New York, we played the Charlotte Bobcats and we messed around and laid an egg at home against them. Those type of games can cost you the playoffs down the stretch when you need that extra win or two. You’ve got to treat every team the same. No matter who we’re playing, we’ve got to treat every team like it’s the Lakers or the Celtics or the Heat because everybody’s in the NBA for a reason, everybody can play.

It’s a mindset. This should be a fun game. When we get a lead of 15, take it to 20, take it to 25 and have everybody play. You don’t want to be struggling down to the end – that’s just tough.

CHANDLER PARSONS

Our overall first half was very sloppy. We turned the ball over way too many times. Our defense wasn’t great. We were just doing a lot of the little things that add up to losing. We definitely didn’t take them lightly but we could have done a lot more.

(On his improved play in the 4th quarter) “It's frustrating because in the first three quarters I can't hit a shot. It's a good thing I could hit them in the fourth but hopefully I can start making them in every quarter and not just in the fourth.”

JEREMY LIN

We’re glad we got the win but we see we have a lot of areas to shore up.

(what are some of those areas?)

Better energy. I think we were just like kind of sluggish. Offensively the ball wasn’t swinging around. Then I think defensively, just getting people off their spots.

PATRICK PATTERSON

(On the intensity level against the Wizards) “We understood the situation. We're on a losing streak right now so any win is a win to us. We know that the Washington Wizards record isn't that great but they're still an NBA team. They're a great basketball team and we don't want to take a step back but take steps forward and we got the win. The first quarter, it was a good quarter for us defensive-wise but as the game progressed on, we turned the ball over far too much. They capitalized on those opportunities.  Nene and (Emeka) Okafor were scoring at will in the post. They kept getting open shots. They got good looks and our turnovers killed us but we were able to hold on down the stretch. At the end of the day, a win is a win. We needed this win to get back on the right track.”

(On tonight’s play versus past games) “I'm really not sure. I thought tonight we played to the level of competition. Normally when we play against San Antonio or the Lakers we stepped up our game rather tonight it seemed like we didn't do that. We didn't come out with that intensity or that energy and we didn't maintain it throughout the whole game. We took a step backwards. We weren't pushing the ball. We weren't sharing the ball. We caused too many turnovers. Defensive-wise, it wasn't a great night for us. Bottom line it's a win and we just have to keep moving forward.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the win) “We did alright. We had a couple of stretches where we played well especially in that first quarter, we held them to 17 points and we had a defensive breakdown in the second quarter. We just got to stick with it. It's going to be tough but we have to stick with it defensively and really lock down on the defensive end.”

(On the sloppy play of the Rockets despite the win) “Obviously, it's good to win but from the way we were playing, it's not going to get it done against the very good teams. We have to really lock in on what we need to do. The small details we have to pay attention to those and be ready to go Friday.”

WASHINGTON WIZARDS COACH RANDY WITTMAN

(On the game) “We did keep coming back but we struggled shooting in the first half and 39% for the game. Against a team like that when you’re struggling to make outside shots and get easy baskets but we still kept fighting back. We have to play more inside-out and we take too many tough outside shots. You have to move the ball and we don’t and that gets us in trouble and we fall in a hole. We’ll correct those things and we’re going to get out of here one of these days with a 50% shooting night. I thought Nenê came in and did a great job. Again some of our guys struggled off the bench. We’re going to have some tough shooting nights”.

(On James Harden) “He is a top notch player. Anytime you add a player like that to your team he’s going to make you better. He’s a hard cover.”

(On Bradley Beal’s play) “He’s improving and he has to continue this. Staying aggressive and he got six free throws along with what he’s doing on the floor. That’s what he’s got to continue to do and I’m pleased with his progress.”

BRADLEY BEAL

(On the game) “It was a game of runs. Sometimes the other team goes on bigger runs than you do and there were moments where we didn’t make shots and we weren’t getting the stops we wanted. They ended up pulling it out in the end but I can’t complain on the way we played at all”

(On James Harden) “He is really aggressive and he’s always looking to score. He tried our best to contain him and we did our best against him in second half. The first half we just let him off too easy and gave him too many easy looks to the basket. We tried to get the ball out of his hands in the second half and I thought we did a great job.”

EMEKA OKAFOR

(On his play and coming back to Houston) “I was born and raised here so I feel comfortable. I had a good flow going and my teammates were finding me.”

(On the game) “Several times I thought we were about to catch up and get the lead but they just hit some shots and kept us in bay.”

(On the Rockets) “A very young, talented team. Harden, he is a heck of a player and O (Asik), he is a beast on the boards. You can give compliments all the way down the line on the team.”

JORDAN CRAWFORD

(On his play) “I am figuring things out game by game and after back to back, putting things behind me. The more opportunity I get, the more comfortable I feel on the court.”

(On Beal’s play) “He is being more aggressive and that’s the main thing. He’s not passing up as many shots as he was early and just being aggressive. We both have good size and we both kind of do the same thing, shooting and driving. We play off each other real well.”

(On the Rockets) “They are aggressive at every position. James (Harden) and Chandler (Parsons) both look to score a lot and they have good combinations.”

NOTES

Houston earned a 99-93 win over Washington tonight, snapping an overall three-game losing streak and ending an eight-game run of allowing at least 100 points to its opponent.

The Rockets now own a four-game winning streak over the Wizards (12/27/10-12/12/12).

Houston has now run up 20-plus fast-break points in each of the last three outings with Washington (23 on 1/16/12, 21 on 1/27/12 and 24 tonight).

The Rockets limited the Wizards to just 35-of-89 (.393) from the field tonight, marking just the second time this season Houston has kept its opponent below .400 shooting in a game (.372, 35-94 FG on 11/9/12 at Memphis).

James Harden, who returned to the lineup after missing the prior game vs. San Antonio (12/10/12) with a right ankle sprain, recorded 31 points (10-20 FG, 9-9 FT) and three steals tonight. His last game played was a 39-point effort vs. Dallas (12/8/12).

Omer Asik posted nine points (3-6 FG) and a game-high 16 rebounds tonight. Asik came into this game off a career-high 21 points (5-11 FG) and 10 rebounds vs. San Antonio (12/10/12).

Chandler Parsons finished with 18 points (7-14 FG, 3-8 3FG) and eight rebounds tonight, which marked his fourth game this season with at least 18 points and eight boards. He only had one such game during his rookie campaign in 2011-12.

Patrick Patterson registered 13 points (4-11 FG) and a season-high-tying three blocks (three blocks on 12/1/12 vs. Utah) tonight.

Greg Smith also equaled his season-high three blocks tonight. Smith now has six blocks in the last two games after matching his season-high three blocks vs. San Antonio (12/10/12).

Toney Douglas added 12 points (4-9 FG) tonight, giving him double-figure scoring in a season-high five straight games (12/4/12-12/12/12). It currently stands as the fifth longest such streak of his career.

Bradley Beal led five Wizards in double-figure scoring with 20 points (6-15 FG, 3-7 3FG, 5-6 FT), six assists, four boards and two steals tonight. Beal entered this game averaging 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists over his previous five games.

Emeka Okafor totaled a season-high 19 points (9-12 FG), six rebounds and two blocks tonight. Okafor surpassed his previous season best of 17 points at Indiana (11/10/12).

Jordan Crawford had 17 points (6-18 FG, 3-9 3FG), eight rebounds and five assists tonight. Crawford had been averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds over his last six outings.

Chris Singleton made a career-high four blocked shots tonight, surpassing his previous career best of three blocks at Memphis (3/18/12).