Washington

Wizards rally past Rockets to claim their fourth straight win

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HOUSTON — The Washington Wizards eyed Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks for a last-second win Tuesday, then boarded a plane south to Houston where, as it turned out, the real troubles awaited. The Mavericks, last season’s Western Conference finalists, were just a warm-up game. The Rockets, owners of the worst record in the NBA, had the Wizards trembling in their boots for three quarters.

The Rockets slammed their visitors into the paint and hustled them most of the night. But the hosts also had twice as many turnovers and the poor shot selection of a team with only 11 wins. The Wizards were eventually able to tap into Houston’s weaknesses and rally at the Toyota Center for a 108-103 win, their fourth straight win.

Kyle Kuzma led a lackluster performance with 33 points and nine rebounds, turning the game with characteristic gutsy shots from beyond the arc and a 20-point quarter. He had five of Washington’s 12 three-pointers, which helped ease a tough fight after the Wizards dug into a 58-43 deficit at halftime.

For a team poised to gain ground in the standings, the Wizards (22-26) didn’t always look like they were looking to claim a win on Wednesday. Bradley Beal and starting center Daniel Gafford were on the bench for much of the first half, while Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. made lineups that could only be described as experimental.

Two-way guard Jordan Goodwin shared time on the court with Deni Avdija, Kuzma and winger Will Barton, who fell out of rotation before the last two games. And fourth-string center Vernon Carey Jr., who averaged 2.1 minutes in seven games before Wednesday, got a long look in the first half.

Another group was new signing Kendrick Nunn, the former Laker who came to the team trading for Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, Kuzma, Barton and Carey.

Unseld may have compiled lineups, at least in Carey’s case, because Kristaps Porzingis was sidelined for his second straight game with a left ankle sprain. He may have been trying to see what he has in Nunn, the freshman, or Barton, who will become a full free agent this summer, and Carey ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline. He may have previously featured specific players or a combination of the three.

The result of the experimentation was a deficit that reached 19 in the first half as the Rockets (11-37) shot 50 percent in the first two quarters and scored 34 points in the paint.

Washington eventually managed some separation in the fourth quarter with Kuzma, Gafford, Beal, Avdija and Nunn on the floor, though they didn’t always cross. Kenyon Martin Jr. had a thunderous dunk to play at 5:16 that put Houston to four. A dunk by Gafford and a jumper by Beal brought the Wizards back to a comfort zone.

A three-pointer from Kuzma with 58 seconds of play added buffer and even a turnover from Beal followed by a dunk from Jabari Smith Jr. couldn’t help the Rockets after that.

Beal had 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Avdija had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Alperen Sengun had a triple-double and led Houston with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Here’s what else you need to know about Wednesday’s win:

The Wizards could be close to accepting hamstring donations at this point. Morris sat with pain in his right thigh muscles, which has bothered him selectively throughout the year. It was the seventh game he missed.

Nunn, 27, did well in his first appearance with the Wizards. The guard had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including two threes, and added four rebounds and four assists. He rarely looked lost despite being unfamiliar with Washington’s playbook, and was keen in transition at moments.

Delon Wright typically played excellent defense, starting in Morris’ place. He had two steals and two assists in the first three minutes and finished with three rebounds, four assists, three steals and five points.

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