The Rockets were off to see the Wizards.
But they still haven't got their heart yet.
The Wizards broke open a clse game at the end of the half and never looked back, beating the Rockets 103-92 in Washington behind Mitch Richmond's 27 points, 7 assists and 6 boards.
The loss drops the Rocks to 9-19.
There are lots of things that stuck out in this game: Steve Francis' 6 steals, a career high, to go with 21 points and 7 assists. Kelvin Cato's 6 blocks (though he shot just 1-6 from the field for 4 points). Thomas Hamilton's 13 rebounds in just 19 minutes of play -- including 6 offensive.
And the most surprising: Walt Williams scoring 20 points on 8-16 shooting in 23 minutes of play (props to Walt for snapping out of the season-long slump ... now lets see if he can keep it up).
However, since I must admit I missed the game (I bow my head in shame for not realizing the game started at noon ... I mean damn, who knew?), I defer to Will Saletan of the Clutch Crew who sat courtside in Washington:
Well, OK, about 100 feet up from courtside, but who's counting? Since the lockout kept the Rockets out of DC last year, it's been a long wait for yours truly. Here's what I saw.
1. The DC fans cheered Francis (due to his Takoma Park, Maryland roots) for most of the game. The loudest exclamation from the crowd all day was a collective "Oooooooh!" when Francis followed up with that massive jam about four minutes before the half.
2. Most disturbing discovery from seeing the new Rockets team in person: Hamilton alternates licking his hands (which I'd seen before on TV) with slapping his hands on the bottoms of his shoes (which I hadn't seen). Somebody please give him a hygiene lecture.
3. Walt Williams did NOT have a great game. His shot fell, and he went inside for a couple of near-layup floaters (which made him an improvement on Bullard), but otherwise he was a non-factor. Without a strong post player to feed off of, Walt seems not to have the versatility to play in a guards/motion offense. What he sorely lacks is attitude. I'm beginning to think that being a nice guy is what's holding him back.
4. There are only two guys on this team who know how to fire the ball around the perimeter to the open man: Bryce Drew and Kenny Thomas. Everyone else throws soft passes that take so long to get there that the player who receives the ball is no longer open. This happened countless times. INEXCUSABLE. Rudy should spend two straight days drilling the team on nothing but this. It's the most important undocumented factor in our lack of offensive production. Solve it, and we'll put up an extra three or four buckets a night.
5. Spend the next month drilling Cato and Rogers in catching passes under the hoop. Francis, Mobley, and Drew tossed those guys countless passes that Cato and Rogers fumbled away. Okay, it's a young team, and they need time to learn each other's styles and improve their execution. But I assure you we lost at least 10 points today on needlessly fumbled passes that would have been sure dunks and layups.
6. Does the NBA rulebook require free throw shooters to stand still? Because if the rule simply bans the shooter from stepping across the line before shooting, then I'd like to have Francis take all his FTs by dribbling in from halfcourt and leaving the court from the free throw line for a dunk. Trust me, his percentage would be higher than if he keeps doing it the conventional way.
7. Cuttino Mobley better keep making a good percentage of his face-up 20-footers. Because he's taking a lot of them with 15 seconds on the clock and no Rockets under the board, and he's not even glancing at his teammates to see whether they're open. That's playground BS, and Mobley needs to outgrow it before he goes cold and takes the Rockets out of games just like Sam Cassell often did.
8. The Wizards played much, much tougher defense in this game than they did in Houston. The most alarming thing about this game was that it shows what happens to the Rockets' offense when the opponent really clamps down and applies pressure and blocks everyone's path to the basket: We lose. Without a true post threat, we're helpless. We counted on soft defense to let us go to the hoop Thursday, and when we didn't get that soft defense today, we died.
9. The Rockets have no go-to man when they really need a basket. Francis seems to have hit a rookie wall. Putting the ball in Mobley's hands is a roll of the dice. Of our current front-court guys -- Cato, Rogers, Hamilton, and Thomas -- not a single one has a reliable post-up game. Bullard is hot one game, cold the next. Walt is hot one game, cold the next five. I hate to say this, but I think it's going to be another two years before a couple of our guys have developed this ability. Remember how long it took Hakeem to build a reliable arsenal of moves.
10. I'm ashamed at the lack of fire on our team. I was struck and disappointed by how lackadaisical our guys looked. Nobody showed ferocity on defense or anger when we blew opportunities. On TV, during substitutions, you usually see the players who are coming onto the court, not the ones who are leaving. What I noticed from being at the game is how nonchalant each of our players looked as he left the court after we'd botched another play or allowed another easy basket. None of them seemed terribly upset.
Get well soon, Charles Barkley. Because as soon as that knee is healed, we've got a lineup of butts on this team that need your kicking services.