Wizards edge Rockets, take SE Division lead
Washington survived a furious fourth- quarter charge by Houston to beat the Rockets 104- 103 on Monday, moving into a share of the lead for the NBA Southeast Division.
Elsewhere, Chicago narrowly defeated Indiana to stretch its Central Division lead, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat Utah for the 12th straight time.
Washington’s Bradley Beal scored 33 points and Paul Pierce added 21 for the Wizards, who began a five-game road trip in good style, notching a third-straight win and moving level with Atlanta in the division,
James Harden scored 33 points —— including a 3-pointer with under a second to go in regulation to get Houston within a point.
The Rockets outscored the Wizards on second-chance points (18-9) and points in the paint (50-34) but were plagued by poor shooting while Washington shot 93 percent from the free-throw line and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Chicago extended its winning streak to seven with a 92-90 win at Indiana.
Jimmy Butler had 27 points and nine rebounds while Pau Gasol had 20 points for the Bulls, who had lost on their previous four trips to Indianapolis.
Chris Copeland scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter for the Pacers, who fought back from 21 points down in the second half to take the lead with 6:15 left but could not hang on.
Los Angeles beat Utah 101-97 for its 12th straight victory over the Jazz, breaking the franchise record for consecutive losses against one club.
Blake Griffin scored 24 points and Chris Paul finished with 20 points and eight assists for the Clippers, who never trailed in the fourth quarter despite leading by no more than five points.
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points for the Jazz and Rudy Gobert added 13 rebounds and 11 points off the bench. Shoot- ing guard Alec Burks missed his second straight game because of chronic soreness in his left shoulder. He also sat out two games early this month for the same reason.
Brooklyn held on to beat Sacramento 107-99, with Mason Plumlee continuing his impressive play with a team-high 22 points.
Orlando won 102-101 at state rival Miami, led by 26 points from Nikola Vucevic.
Milwaukee pulled away to win 104-94 in overtime at Charlotte, with Brandon Knight scoring 18 points, including a layup to force overtime.
Cavs Fret over Blatt
The Cavaliers are 18-12 but lost 103-80 at home to Detroit, which has lost 23 of 30 games, and 127-98 to Atlanta two weeks ago.
Some things are clearly out of coach David Blatt’s control. Cleveland is without injured Australian guard Kyrie Irving, absent with a sore left knee, and Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao, who is out for the remain- der of the season after surgery on a torn Achilles tendon.
Asked Sunday if he was concerned he might be losing control of the team, Blatt replied: “I’m not concerned about that at all. I’m concerned with how we are playing.”
James, who turns 30 on Tuesday, has assumed a leadership role since his arrival and made his unhappiness clear after Sunday’s loss.
“We’re not a very good team,” he said. “As far as on the court, we’re still trying to find our way as well. We’ve won some good games. We’ve lost some games. But right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.”
Player substitution patterns were questioned early in the season as Blatt tried to work with different alignments to find combinations that worked. The Cavaliers had to become accustomed to each other after bringing in James and star big man Kevin Love from Minnesota to join Irving and the rest of the roster.
The latest struggles follow injuries but still leave James and Love in search of answers.
“I can’t tell you what it was,” Love said. “We need to play better in front of our home crowd. It’s just unacceptable.”
Blatt says the team needs to adjust to the injuries.
“We lost some pretty important players,” Blatt said Sunday. “You have to be more determined and more competitive and fight your way through that or else this happens. It’s not an excuse. It’s just an explanation.”
The ESPN report said various players have not paid attention to Blatt during timeout huddles, instead preferring to communicate with former NBA player Tyronn Lue, a Cavaliers assistant coach.
Utah Jazz guard Patrick Christopher, left, battles Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 29.