Coach, star question wilting Wizards

WASHINGTON -- For a team that entered the season with aspirations of winning 50 games and earning home-court advantage in the playoffs -- the former now impossible, the likelihood of the latter fading quickly -- John Wall's Washington Wizards sure are slumping down the stretch.

They can't even seem to run plays properly right after coach Randy Wittman draws them up during a timeout.

Losing for the fifth time in six games, which delayed their bid to secure a postseason berth, the Wizards were beaten 99-91 Sunday by the Houston Rockets, who got 24 points from James Harden, along with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes from Dwight Howard, appearing in his third game back from a right knee injury.

The Wizards shot 29.2 percent in the first quarter, 38.7 percent for the game, and Wittman lamented afterward that there were basic problems when his team had the ball.

"We were running things that I've never seen before. We weren't focused on what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint," Wittman said, adding with a wry chuckle: "Coming out of timeouts, a guy doesn't even know he's supposed to catch the ball, and we turn it over."

Wall agreed.

"That's terrible," the point guard said.

Asked whether the players or Wittman were at fault, Wall answered: "I wouldn't put it on the coach, because he's doing a great job of drawing it up. ... Like he always says, if you don't know, you've got time before you walk on the court to ask again. So it's all on us as players."

The Wizards are fifth in the Eastern Conference and still had a chance to end Sunday with a guaranteed place in the postseason, depending on results of later games. But they dropped 2½ games behind No. 4 seed Toronto and, at 41-33 with eight games remaining, they can't wind up with 50 victories.

"We show a sense of urgency one game, and another game, we take it off. To be where we want to be and go as far as we did last year, we have to turn it around or ... we'll be done quick," said Wall, who finished with 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.

Another bright spot in Sunday's loss was little-used reserve Otto Porter Jr., the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, had 15 points and six rebounds for the Wizards, replacing Paul Pierce, who shot 1 for 6 and had two points.

"He might not have his legs as much as we need," Wall said about Pierce, "so he might need to take a game or two off."

The Wizards hope to get back on track with three of their next four games coming against the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, who have a combined 32 wins this season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.