James Harden went right and came up empty. Josh Smith forced a layup, and came up empty too. That is how the Rockets lost their third straight game, on their home court to the below-.500 Washington Wizards.
Harden was brilliant, scoring 40 points with 11 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. He played some great defense on John Wall to force him to a miss the previous possession, giving the Rockets the ball with 8.7 seconds left down 123-122. But the Wizards forced him right, and he came up empty.
We'll get to the officiating, but James Harden has been brilliant the past two games. The collective shooting and offensive effort of Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry and Clint Capela the last three games has been horrible. Capela especially looks lost, and it forces Bickerstaff to play Terrence Jones for stretches.
The Rockets had a three-point lead on the Wizards after the first half thanks to some classic James Harden buzzer magic. The Rockets had been moving the ball well after Josh Smith came in the the game, but after a Terrence Jones-induced defensive slumber, the Wizards had come back to tie it.
I should have this phrase on a permanent sticky note or something because I've written it so often this season: the third quarter is when things started to collapse. The defense couldn't keep up with John Wall, who had double-digit assists early in the third quarter.
Watching Jason Terry, who came in after about eight minutes, try to keep up with Wall, or Ramon Sessions for that matter, was depressing. This is the 38-year-old who looks his age, not the 37-year-old admirably keeping up with Chris Paul in the playoffs.
The Rockets went into the fourth quarter down two points, but it started to feel like the game was unraveling. Then Dwight Howard — who was given a technical foul on a bogus call in the first half — and Nene got into some shenanigans, and both were thrown out. Immediately after that, James Harden went off.
On one possession, Harden took it up court and found Patrick Beverley with a great pass for a three. The very next possession, he steadily dribbled up the court and launched a three from the top of the key and buried it. Six-point lead.
The Rockets didn't play poorly down the stretch either. Patrick Beverley was called because Jared Dudley ran over his stationary shoe. J.B. Bickerstaff was T-ed up because the refs couldn't hear his timeout calls when James Harden was trapped on the sideline. The Wizards made all three free throws after those calls. The Rockets lost by one point.
The refs have not been to blame for the Rockets' season, but holy hell would these last two games be different if the refs hadn't been so flim-flam with these calls. The NBA is not rigged, there is no conspiracy, but there is such a thing as sheer incompetence bordering on negligence. And that's what the officiating has been for the Rockets these past two games.
One final thought: Dwight Howard's temper is a problem. Does he deserve all these fouls? Of course not. But he does move on screens, he does put his meathook arms all over people. He commits some dumb fouls. But the dumbest thing he does is argue about every last one of them, because the refs have taken a serious dislike to him.
Dwight is now at 12 technical fouls on the season, I believe. At 16, each one results in a suspension. These are no longer to be taken lightly. HIs temper is costing the Rockets games. He's too old for this nonsense.