Road Trip Has Its Share of Potholes, but No Flat Tires

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 25, 2005

PHOENIX, Dec. 24 -- The Washington Wizards' 2-3 road trip can't be considered a total success, considering it included losses to the Portland Trail Blazers (8-18) and to a Seattle SuperSonics squad the Wizards pounded by 41 points in November. But Friday night's thrilling 112-111 win over the Phoenix Suns at least offered some reason for hope as the Wizards headed home.

"It definitely feels better to end this trip with two wins," center Brendan Haywood said. "We lost three tough games out here, and we needed a couple of wins to get things going in the right direction again."

Washington's first two-game winning streak since Nov. 11-12 -- and first two-game road winning streak since the first two games of the season -- moved them into second place behind Miami (15-12) in the Southeast Division entering an eight-game stretch that will feature seven games at MCI Center.

The Wizards are 2-5 in games decided by five points or less and 2-1 in overtime games, but Friday's win didn't come without its tense moments.

Leading 104-102 with 3 minutes 21 seconds remaining in Phoenix, Gilbert Arenas committed a horrendous turnover. He threw the ball back into his own end of the court, leading to a breakaway slam dunk by Suns forward Shawn Marion. Later, Arenas missed 3 of 4 free throws, and when the Suns set up the game's final possession, a miscommunication by the Wizards left Marion wide open under the basket.

However, Jimmy Jackson, who was inbounding the ball couldn't see over 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries and had to call a timeout. On the game's final play, Suns guard Steve Nash curled off a screen by Kurt Thomas and got an excellent look at a game-winning jumper, but the ball popped in and out.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds. "This was one of those great basketball games to play in, and I'm sure it was fun to watch. I'm just glad to get out of here with the win."

Said Suns guard Raja Bell: "That was a team that was hungry. Sometimes, the wounded animals are the most dangerous."

Atkins Diet: 3-Pointers

Reserve guard Chucky Atkins is forming a habit of knocking down huge shots in key situations. In a 120-114 double-overtime win at Detroit on Nov. 25, Atkins made 6 of 7 three-point attempts, including four three-pointers during a key fourth-quarter stretch. Friday night, Atkins came off the bench to hit two crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Atkins also made six three-pointers in an overtime loss at Miami on Dec. 11.

Atkins's performance was even more impressive considering he didn't play in the first half Friday.

"I don't care if I play 30 seconds or I play 30 minutes, I'm going to come in and be aggressive," said Atkins, who is making 37.1 percent of his three-point shots and averaging 6.6 points per game. "That's how I play."

Thomas Hip to Play

Backup center Etan Thomas missed his first game of the season because of left hip soreness. Thomas said the hip has felt tight recently, and he wasn't able to properly stretch it out before the game. Thomas, who is averaging 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game, said he expects to be ready for Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers at MCI Center.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company