Despite fighting spirit, Wizards still looking for a road win

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:15 AM

Though undermanned without starters John Wall and Al Thornton, the Washington Wizards showed some spunk in Miami on Monday, but it wasn't the kind that translated into an elusive first win away from Verizon Center.

Hilton Armstrong picked up a flagrant foul penalty two - and faces a possible league suspension - for pushing Miami Heat reserve Joel Anthony to keep him from converting an uncontested layup. Alonzo Gee later picked up a flagrant foul penalty one for bumping Heat forward Chris Bosh on a driving layup.

Nick Young spotted Juwan Howard shoving Armstrong to the floor and immediately ran to Armstrong's defense by trying to push Howard back before Andray Blatche stepped in to separate them. A few minutes later, James Jones took exception to a Kirk Hinrich elbow and chopped down on his arm. Then Hinrich walked up to Jones and shouted at him before Dwyane Wade pulled him away.

Despite all that feistiness, the Wizards tied the franchise record for most road losses to open a regular season with eight. They will need to display a similar competitive spirit if they hope to avoid setting a new mark for road futility on Wednesday in Toronto.

The most encouraging sign for the Wizards (5-11), however, wasn't the fighting. It came before their 105-94 loss against Miami, when Wall shot some midrange jumpers on his bruised right knee in hopes of being prepared for a comeback against the Raptors.

"Being banged up, really, that's an excuse," Hinrich said. "We've just got to find a way to get some wins on the road."

Wall and Thornton both practiced on Tuesday and are expected to be available on Wednesday, when the Wizards hope to end a three-game slide. Thornton has been sidelined for the past three games with a sprained left ankle, while Wall has missed the past two, putting the Wizards in a challenging situation, with key reserve Yi Jianlian still out with a hyperextended right knee. Yi also participated in practice, but admitted in Miami that he still has some trouble making cuts on his leg.

"We haven't had a chance to get all of our guys together, in practice or playing, for three straight days and that's unfortunate, especially with a young team," Coach Flip Saunders said. "As undermanned as we are, we can't afford to have guys down. We are getting tired, we are getting beat up, we've been playing every other day, traveling every other day; so we need as many guys healthy that can play for us."

The Wizards certainly need to start adding more players to the lineup, rather than losing them, but they will likely not have reserve Armstrong, who was ejected with 32.3 seconds left in the third quarter when he attempted to stop Anthony from scoring a layup. Anthony flailed awkwardly, even clobbering Gilbert Arenas on the head before hitting the hardwood.

Armstrong was still holding out hope that the league would grant him some leniency, although the play was almost identical to Elton Brand's shove of a defenseless and airborne JaVale McGee last week. Brand received a one-game suspension.

"I can't control that," Armstrong said of NBA Executive Vice President Stu Jackson's decision to suspend him or not. "I would hope not, because my intentions was not to hurt anyone."

Armstrong tried to help him back up, but the moment Armstrong extended his hand, Howard knocked him over, leading officials to intercede and break up the players. "Juwan Howard took it the wrong way," Blatche said.

Although McGee is still experiencing some back pain as the result of his fall, he joked with Armstrong after the play. "I called him Elton Brand when we got here," McGee said in the locker room after the game. He added that if Armstrong was unavailable, "We just got to work harder, now that we might lose a player, we've got to go harder than we've been going lately."

The Wizards had their most complete game of the season when they beat the Raptors, 109-94, at Verizon Center two weeks ago and Saunders said his team would be prepared with or without Armstrong. "It hurts just because he is a big man. The thing that helps a little bit is Toronto doesn't play big. They play pretty small, so that will be one advantage."

Arenas and Blatche are the only players remaining from the last Wizards team to open the season with eight road losses in 2006-07. Those Wizards went on to win their next three road games, with Arenas capping the win streak with his incredible, career-best 60-point performance in a 147-141 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 17 of that season.

"All it takes is one game, on the road to win, and from there, you just get momentum. All it's going to take is just one game to get your confidence," Arenas said, adding that the Wizards' struggles away from home are understandable at this point in the season. "It comes with youth. Inexperienced players, getting a chance to play when they really haven't had a chance to develop any skill. But that's what happens when you're a rebuilding team."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company