Reeling Washington Wizards head west for a 'ridiculous' road trip

Wizards forward Andray Blatche is averaging 22.4 points and 8 rebounds a game during the team's seven-game losing streak.
Wizards forward Andray Blatche is averaging 22.4 points and 8 rebounds a game during the team's seven-game losing streak. (Nick Wass/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010

One night after suffering their seventh straight loss, the Washington Wizards boarded a plane on Sunday afternoon to begin their final extended trip of the season.

The flight to Utah will have given the Wizards plenty of time to assess just how fragile their situation is, considering their slide has reached a season high and the caliber of opponents they will face over the next week.

"We're playing the best," Wizards forward Al Thornton said. "Some of the best teams in the West, and we've got to take it on as a challenge and try to get better. I mean that's the only thing you can do."

The Jazz, the Denver Nuggets and the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers await the Wizards (21-43), as does Portland, which occupies the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race and has almost twice as many wins as Washington.

Faced with those prospects and after having logged a third game in as many nights because of the residuals of the February blizzard, it's no wonder Wizards players were a bit weary after Saturday's 109-95 loss to Eastern Conference power Orlando.

"It's tough, man. No time to feel sorry for ourselves, obviously," said guard Shaun Livingston, one of the few beacons against the Magic, scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting with eight assists. "We got a young group, and guys are just trying to feel each other out. We've got to go on the road and try to bring some energy and steal some wins."

Washington opened a 35-20 lead against Orlando early in the second quarter, but that served only to rouse the Magic from its indifferent play to that point. Starting center Dwight Howard (team-high 28 points, game-high 15 rebounds) became more involved, and Orlando's bench contributed 27 points in the quarter as the Magic went on a 22-6 run and took the lead for good on reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus's three-pointer with 7 minutes 11 second to go before intermission.

That triggered a second-half flurry by Orlando, which won its season-high eighth in a row after the Wizards faded down the stretch.

Washington won't have much time to recuperate before its game Monday against Utah (42-23). The Jazz has won four of five, sit five and a half games behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West and is eager to be back at Energy Solutions Arena after three straight on the road. Utah is 25-8 at home.

On Tuesday, the Wizards are in Denver (45-21), where the Nuggets are 28-5 at Pepsi Center. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost fewer games on their home court.

Denver is three games behind the Lakers in the West and has the league's third leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 28.6 points per game. The Nuggets are second in the NBA in points per game (107.6).

Washington then gets consecutive days off to prepare for Portland on Friday night. The Trail Blazers (40-28) have won three in a row and eight of 10. Last season the Wizards lost at Portland, 100-87.

Finally, on their eighth day away from home, Washington makes its second appearance of the season at Staples Center, this time to play the Lakers. In their road game against the Lakers last season, the Wizards lost, 117-97.

The Lakers (48-18) are seeking to overtake the Cavaliers for the best record in the league and thus secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles is three games behind Cleveland.

"I don't know in all the years I've been in the league, even when I was with Minnesota in the West, that we had a stretch where we played the teams we're playing with their records in the consecutive days that we're playing them," said Saunders, whose team went 1-3 in its first West Coast swing this season. "To make matters worse, which I've never, ever seen, we play our last game against the Lakers. We come home. We got one day of rest, and we play at home, and the next day we go back on the road on a back-to-back, which is ridiculous. I don't know how that ended up."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company