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Friday, December 17, 2004; Page D08

WHO'S NEXT?

at Lakers

Tonight, 10:30 p.m.

_____ Who's the Man? _____
Which player is most important to Washington’s bid for a playoff spot this season?
Gilbert Arenas
Kwame Brown
Larry Hughes
Antawn Jamison
Somebody else

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Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.

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WWRC-1260

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 16 -- It doesn't get any easier for the Wizards now that the Miami Heat, the team with the Eastern Conference's best record, is no longer on the schedule.

The time has come for the Wizards to prove themselves out west, where they will play four games in five nights against the Lakers, Suns, Warriors and Kings. "We all know what it's about," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It's a huge obstacle in front of us."

Despite the continuing drama surrounding Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are 4-0 at home against Eastern Conference teams. The Suns, owners of the NBA's best record and the highest-scoring team in the league at 109.4 points per game, have won six home games against the East by an average of 17.3 points.

The Warriors are the only team on the trip with a losing record, but they are 3-1 at home against the East. The Kings are 6-0 at home against the East, winning their past three home games against East teams by an average of 19. The Wizards (12-8) are the last team in the Eastern Conference to take a trip out west. They are 2-2 against the Western Conference, beating New Orleans at home and Memphis on the road in the opener.

The Western Conference has won 63 percent (85-50) of its games against the Eastern Conference this season. Cleveland (5-3), Detroit (6-4), Orlando (7-5) and New York (5-4) are the only Eastern Conference teams with winning records against the Western Conference.

"We feel comfortable in what we're doing," guard Larry Hughes said. "We just have to play our game out there, and we'll come home with some victories. We had an opportunity to measure ourselves against Miami and we know where we are."

The Wizards will have four days of rest after the trip, then they'll go to Minnesota to play the Timberwolves on Dec. 26. "It's a long season," Jordan said. "The graph doesn't always go up to the peak. There are going to be some valleys. There are going to be some peaks. I hope we can stay at that average line and keep rolling."

-- Michael Lee


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