WASHINGTON (AP)—The Houston Rockets broke a five-game losing streak with their best offensive game of the season, setting numerous season highs. That seems to be the latest trend when facing the Washington Wizards.
Tracy McGrady matched his season high with 38 points. Juwan Howard scored a season-high 24. Rafer Alston had season highs with 17 points and 10 assists. The Rockets, who entered averaging a league-low 87.6 points, shot a season-high 55 percent and scored a dozen points more than they had in any game this season.
The Rockets took control early in a 123-111 rout Tuesday night, becoming the second team in as many games to set a new high in points against the slumping Wizards.
“I wish there was more to it—we just made more shots,” coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “It’s not that complex, really.”
The Rockets hardly looked like the team that had lost by an average of 10 during its five-game skid, all without injured center Yao Ming. They moved the ball well and shot even better, building a second-quarter double-digit lead that wasn’t threatened until a late Wizards rally.
“We have to turn things around before things get out of hand,” Alston said. “We were getting good penetration. Defensively, we were good for 2 1/2 quarters. We have to sustain the whole game on defense.”
The Wizards lost their third straight, all at home. They had targeted the Rockets game as the first of a five-game stretch against teams under .500—a chance to turn the season around after a mediocre start.
Instead, the Wizards are turning into a team that others can target.
“A disappointing loss,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “But to start the new year, we have a five-game mission in front of us. We’re down one, and we’re still going to stay positive. We’ll see where the remaining four games of the five-game package will take us, and we’ll measure ourselves after that.”
Gilbert Arenas scored 44 for the Wizards, following his career-high 47 in a loss to Miami on Friday. He didn’t get nearly enough help either time.
Washington played like a team in slow motion for most of the game, with passes that were a split-second late and off-balance jumpers that didn’t have much of a chance.
“It’s really frustrating because I don’t want to score that much, because that means I’m exerting too much energy, when this is a team game,” Arenas said. “I’m just going to keep going until I see my teammates coming along with me.”
Caron Butler scored 20 and Antawn Jamison 17 for the Wizards, who were soundly booed by the home fans once the deficit hit 20 in the third quarter. They trailed by 26 before mounting a fourth-quarter comeback that cut the lead to eight.
“We didn’t have no energy. We didn’t come out to play,” Arenas said. “It’s not about talent anymore. We just have to come out and play hard. We’re doing it in spurts. The last five minutes, when the game is at 11, we’re coming to play. We need to do that from the beginning so we won’t be down 20, 25. … We’re in 10th place. I don’t understand why we’re not playing harder. It’s not like we’re sitting like Detroit.”
Howard steadied the Rockets late with nine fourth-quarter points, helping Houston remain ahead while McGrady was on the bench with five fouls. Howard was notorious for disappearing in the final period when he played for the Wizards— a motivation for the constant boos he hears every time he visits the MCI Center — but he silenced the crowd Tuesday night.
“Those baskets kind of quieted the boos,” Howard said. “It quieted the arena.”
Arenas has five 40-point games this season, but the Wizards are only 2-3 in those games. … Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo had a season-high 11 rebounds. … Stromile Swift and Alston fouled out for the Rockets. Alston playfully kissed official Ron Olesiak on the temple while walking to the bench after his sixth foul.