A five-game west coast trip provided the latest test for the respect-seeking Washington Wizards. Washington entered the road swing with a 21-8 record but faced a slate that included five straight games against some of the NBA’s elite. But the Wizards also sport some of the most skilled players in the league, so a confident bunch departed Washington, D.C. in search of some signature wins. The trip got off to a positive start before challenges arose.
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) is defended by Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12), and guard James Harden during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Dec. 29: Wizards Hold Off Rockets, 104-103
The Wizards’ road stretch started out with a Dec. 29 clash against the surging Houston Rockets. After landing Josh Smith, the Rockets appeared set to contend for a title, but the Wizards were eager to send a message—and they did. After surrendering an 18-point second half lead, Washington fended off a furious Rockets rally to edge Houston, 104-103. The Wizards led 71-53 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter, but saw that lead dwindle to 102-100 after Houston guard James Harden hit a desperate three-pointer late in the game. John Wall fortunately made a subsequent pair of free throws, but Harden made another deep shot at the buzzer to cut the Wizards’ win to a single point. Bradley Beal scored a season-high 33 points, matching the Harden’s performance. John Wall racked up 13 points and 12 assists, while Paul Pierce added 21 points. Former Wizard Trevor Ariza scored 15 points for Houston but shot just six-of-15 from the field.
Dec. 30: Mavericks Rout Wizards, 114-87
After a heart-racing win the night before, Washington simply couldn’t get it going in a Dec. 30 matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. The Wizards ended the first quarter trailing just 27-24, but were outscored by 15 points in what became a game-defining second quarter en route to a 114-87 rout at the American Airlines Center. Six Mavericks scored in double figures, while two Wizards tied for a team-high 11 points.
Jan. 2: Thunder Rally for Win in Marquee Matchup
Washington Wizards’ Paul Pierce, center, is defended by Boris Diaw, front left, and Kyle Anderson (1) while driving to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A Friday night tilt against the Oklahoma City Thunder was surrounded by storylines. The Jan. 2 contest pitted the super-athletic Wall against the Thunder’s similarly super-athletic Russell Westbrook and Maryland-raised Kevin Durant, whose upcoming free agency has sparked many return-to-Washington rumors. The Wizards went into Oklahoma City with the sole purpose of upsetting the Thunder, but fell 109-102. Washington led 57-55 at halftime and stretched their lead to 82-74 deep in the third quarter, but the Thunder rallied behind Durant and Westbrook. Durant’s back-to-back three-pointers tied the game at the end of the third quarter, and Durant combined with Westbrook to score 15 points in the final quarter. Six Wizards scored in double figures, but Durant’s 34 points were a game-high, followed by Westbrook’s 22 points.
Jan. 3: Wizards Stumble Late Again, Fall to Spurs, 101-92
A Jan. 3 showdown with the San Antonio Spurs played out much like the previous night’s affair. Washington kept it close for most of the game before clutch plays from San Antonio sent the Wizards to a 101-92 defeat. Six players scored in double figures for Washington, with Wall and Beal tying for the team lead with 15 points apiece. Beal’s three-pointer cut the Spurs’ lead to 91-88 with just under five minutes remaining in the game. But Washington went cold after that, as San Antonio reeled off a 7-0 run to go up 98-88 and seal the game. The Wizards didn’t score again until just 50 seconds were left in regulation, while Spurs reserve guard Marco Belinelli scored nine straight to close the game.