Wizards hoping to end road skid during three-game trip

John Wall, left, and the Wizards are headed West, looking for their first win on the road this season.
John Wall, left, and the Wizards are headed West, looking for their first win on the road this season. (John Mcdonnell)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010

PHOENIX - The Washington Wizards boarded a plane immediately after their gritty victory over the beleaguered Portland Trail Blazers feeling more confident and somewhat encouraged. They snapped a four-game losing streak, finding the fortitude to battle back from a 10-point second-half deficit and relying on defense and hustle to win a game in which John Wall wasn't at his best.

But by the time the Wizards landed in Phoenix, where they will play the first of three games out West against the Suns on Sunday, the team had to come to grips with the grim truth - it is no longer surrounded by the comforts of Verizon Center.

The Wizards (6-12) have opened the season with a franchise record nine road losses, but they still have a ways to go to match the NBA record for most road losses to start a season. The Dallas Mavericks opened with 29 consecutive road losses in 1992-93.

"You've got to start winning on the road sooner or later," Wall said. "You've got half games at home, half on the road. We don't want to go 0-41 on the road."

But in order to change their fortunes away from home, the Wizards have to play with the same tenacity they showed in the final minutes of their 83-79 win against Portland, as they got steals, fought for extra possessions and chased down loose balls. Wall nearly took out the entire front row trying to save a ball in the fourth quarter, which showed his ability to fight through an admittedly rough night.

The Wizards made up for his poor performance with contributions from all over, including Cartier Martin, who scored four points in the fourth quarter to give the Wizards the lead for good. Then, Kirk Hinrich deflected a pass by Portland all-star guard Brandon Roy and Andray Blatche recovered the ball near the foul line. Blatche darted up the floor, saw Wall streaking to his left, but kept it for himself, using a dribble juke before converting a finger roll.

"It's always good to come home and take care of home and get wins," Blatche said. "Now it's time for us to go on this road trip and definitely get a win. It's time for us to step up, each one of us individually, not offensively, but defensively and vocally and stay together at this time on the road, because we need to. We got to have everybody's back and get this losing streak out of the way."

Lately, the Wizards have failed to even be competitive on the road, with their past three defeats to Toronto, Miami and Atlanta all decided by double-digits. Six of their road losses this season have been by 10 or more points, including four by at least 20. And now they will have their most extensive trip of the season against two teams with winning records in Phoenix and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, plus the Sacramento Kings.

"For us, any road trip is tough right now, the way we play on the road," Coach Flip Saunders said. "I don't care who we play. But it's something the players should look forward to."

Saunders couldn't guarantee that the Wizards would beat the Suns, but he was certain of what his team wouldn't accomplish. "I don't think we're going to hold Phoenix to 79," Saunders said with a laugh about the Suns, who average a league-best 109 points per game. "There are some things we can do against them that can give them some problems. What we've got to do is exert how we want to play against them."

That could mean more touches for Blatche, with him playing improved basketball of late and the Suns lacking much size with the departure of Amare Stoudemire for New York and regular center Robin Lopez sidelined with a sprained left knee. Blatche is averaging 20.7 points and eight rebounds in the past three games, including a season-high 26 in a road loss in Miami. He scored eight points in the final 2 minutes 35 seconds against Portland. Javale McGee, who has averaged 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in his past eight games, could also be looked upon to produce.

The Suns have a much different look this season, but Steve Nash continues to lead their high-octane attack, as he ranks third in the league in assists at 10.1 per game.

Wall has studied Nash, and his ability to change speeds and find his teammates. He even attended Nash's skills academy in New Jersey the summer before his senior year in high school in 2008. Wall joked that it probably won't help in defending Nash.

"You really can't prepare for him; all you do is run around," Wall said. "He's a smart point guard that can score the ball in various ways; he's very tricky. He's one of those players that's small and not that athletic, but knows how to play the game and help his team win."

Gilbert Arenas, who has accepted a reserve role with Wall returning to the starting lineup, said the Wizards are due to finally break through on the road. "We've let a lot slip out of our hands. So we've got to get some wins we aren't supposed to get. We're going to get a win. We've just got to keep digging."

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