Houston (31-31) at Washington (21-39)

Cloudy Currently: Washington, DC
Temp: 70° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Tue Mar 9, 2010
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As a team hoping to claim a Western Conference playoff spot, the Houston Rockets should feel pretty confident going into a meeting with the rebuilding Washington Wizards. No win looks easy, however, after Houston’s latest performance.

Coming off a particularly deflating defeat, the Rockets look to snap out of their extended funk as they visit the lowly Wizards on Tuesday night.

Houston (31-31) hasn’t given up in its bid for a trip to the postseason, but it hasn’t looked much like a playoff team lately, dropping 13 of 20 since Jan. 23. The Rockets have lost six of nine since trading the inactive Tracy McGrady(notes) and getting high-scoring shooting guard Kevin Martin(notes) in return.

They have fallen into a 10th-place tie in the West, 4 1/2 games behind Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot.

A recent stretch of games against sub-.500 opponents hasn’t improved the Rockets’ postseason outlook. Houston shot 39.0 percent in a home loss to lottery-bound Sacramento on Wednesday, and after beating conference-worst Minnesota on Saturday, fell 110-107 in overtime at Detroit.

Sunday’s defeat was especially hard to swallow, as the Pistons had lost their previous six games and were playing without starting point guard Rodney Stuckey(notes), the team’s second-leading scorer and top playmaker. The Rockets took an eight-point lead with 3:42 left in regulation but couldn’t close out the Pistons.

“I don’t know what comes first, good defense or bad offense,” Rockets forward Luis Scola(notes) said. “I like to look at it from our side and I think that we made some mistakes and we should have won this game. We didn’t know how to close this game tonight. We are having this problem right now. We are running out of time right now and we need to win some games.”

Houston hopes for better results against Washington, which has lost five of six—with its lone win in that stretch coming against league-worst New Jersey. The Wizards (21-39) also blew a late lead in their last game, falling 86-83 at Boston after leading by 13 midway through the fourth quarter.

Washington coach Flip Saunders wasn’t happy with his young team’s attitude down the stretch.

“Well, we choked,” Saunders said. “Six minutes to go and we’re up 13 and we start talking to (Boston’s Kevin Garnett(notes)), start talking trash and everything else. Got Garnett and those guys juiced up.”

The late collapse overshadowed another strong performance from Andray Blatche(notes), who had 23 points and nine rebounds. The fifth-year forward is averaging 24.0 points and 10.6 boards while shooting 53.7 percent from the field in 10 games since being inserted into the starting lineup in mid-February.

Blatche had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists as Washington won 89-87 in Houston in the teams’ last meeting Dec. 29, 2008. That snapped the Rockets’ seven-game winning streak in the series, but Houston still has won four straight at Verizon Center.

Scola, averaging 21.3 points and 18.0 rebounds over his last three games, had 16 points while going 7 for 8 from the field in the home loss to the Wizards.

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Tuesday, Mar 9