On Harry Potter night in Houston, Wizards get lost in chamber of secrets

On Harry Potter night in Houston, Wizards get lost in chamber of secrets

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

HOUSTON — The clever Houston Rockets communications teams dubbed Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards “Harry Potter night” — complete with a mid-quarter dance routine from the team’s kid dance squad. Clutch, the Rockets’ mascot, donned a wig with straight black hair. Somebody dressed up as Lord Voldemort, ghost-white mask and all. A pretend duel ensued.

The theatrics were far more organized than the basketball in the Wizards’ 135-119 loss.

Washington and Houston traded blows in a game largely void of defense. By the second quarter, the Wizards’ offense slowed enough to allow the Rockets to pull away for good.

“We just let guys drive to the rim. No help at the rim. We didn’t do our best tonight at [rotating],” Kyle Kuzma said. “They got in transition, they got in the paint, and we suffered for it.”

The Rockets attacked the Wizards, who were without centers Marvin Bagley III (back) and Richaun Holmes (toe), in the paint and outscored them 42-25 in the second quarter. Washington’s faulty defense stalled its offense, allowing Houston to seize the momentum. The Rockets never let it go.

It has been a steep nosedive for the Wizards (11-55) after stringing wins together against Charlotte and Miami last week.

“I don’t think our team has taken a step back. I think we’re in a learning process and a discovery process about our team,” interim coach Brian Keefe said. “I liked our fight tonight. We’ve shown good examples in the last five games that we can play high-level defense. . . . Tonight, we didn’t initiate physically to stop the ball and bring over the help, something we’ll address and look at, but each game we’ve got to grow.”

The Rockets (31-35), battling to get into the play-in tournament in the West, were brimming with confidence throughout, especially once the second quarter got underway, and turned all that self-assurance into their most efficient shooting night of the season. They shot 59.3 percent from the field and were led by the red-hot Jalen Green, who shredded the Wizards’ defense for 37 points on 15-for-23 shooting, including 5 for 9 from three.

Veteran point guard Fred VanVleet added 27 points, and with six players in double figures, the Rockets had more than enough firepower to overcome 19 turnovers.

“We miss whenever we don’t have a five-man out there, someone who can set screens, someone who can get boards,” Jordan Poole said. “. . . Whenever we kind of go small ball, we kind of stay on the perimeter a little bit, and then it’s easy for teams like the Rockets who have length, have good defenders, to switch one through five and pack the paint a little bit.”

Poole led the Wizards with 25 points off the bench. Deni Avdija added 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, evidence of an aggressive night in the paint.

Kuzma had 23 points as the de facto center in the Wizards’ small-ball lineup, and all five starters as well as Poole were in double figures.

Still, it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the second quarter. That might have taken a bit of magic — or some better defense.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Avdija heads to the locker room

With just over three minutes to play, Avdija slipped awkwardly and fell to the floor with the ball in his hands, only to get up and grab just above his right knee in clear discomfort. He limped and hopped straight to the locker room after the Wizards promptly called a timeout.

He walked back on his own to the bench a short while later before again heading back to the locker room.

The Wizards signed 7-foot center Tristan Vukcevic on Thursday to a deal that will keep him with the team through at least the 2024-25 season.

Although Vukcevic spent this season with Serbian club KK Partizan Belgrade, the 21-year-old was Washington’s second-round selection in last year’s draft with the 42nd pick. He already was familiar with the team after spending the summer league with the Wizards, during which he averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games.

Keefe said he was looking forward to getting Vukcevic enmeshed in Washington’s development program.

“A stretch big, versatile, skillful guy on the perimeter,” Keefe said. “[He] can play around the rim to give us some size and length at the rim.”

Vukcevic is averaging 7.7 points and shooting 54 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from beyond the three-point arc through 30 games in the Adriatic League.

Corey Kispert came back to earth on offense after a pair of impressive games to start the Wizards’ trip. Keefe has started the third-year guard in all three games of the trip so far with Washington playing a small-ball lineup thanks to injuries, and the change has suited Kispert well.

He scored 22 points against both Miami and Memphis, shooting 53.3 percent from the field against the Heat and 66.7 percent against the Grizzlies.

He posted 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting against Houston, but he did have a couple of standout defensive moments including an athletic, chase-down block on Jabari Smith Jr.

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