Wizards get another shot at Pacers

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2010; D05

Even for a mostly untested team with an evolving roster, playing on the road wasn't supposed to be this dreadful for the Washington Wizards.

Yet here they are more than one-third into the season without a victory away from Verizon Center. Not only is Washington 0-15 on the road, but it's the last club without a road victory this season. Even the three teams with worse records overall than the Wizards, who opened last season winning at Dallas, can claim not just one but at least two road wins, and that includes last-place Sacramento.

"We're not pressing," said prized rookie point guard John Wall, who was three rebounds shy of his second triple-double of the season in Wednesday's 104-90 victory over visiting Indiana. "We try to move on game-by-game, but it's still in your head at the same time, that you haven't got a road win."

Wall finished with 10 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds in his third game since returning from a bone bruise in his right knee that forced him to miss five games. The No. 1 overall pick played 35 minutes against the Pacers, well above his playing time in his two previous games. Wall played 27 minutes on Monday in Washington's 100-93 loss at Houston.

The Wizards (8-22) came tantalizingly close to their first road victory of the season against the Rockets, but they were unable to settle matters despite owning a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to play. Once that advantage evaporated, Washington found itself more than halfway to the NBA record for most road losses to start a season (29), prompting leading scorer Andray Blatche to say afterward: "We always collapse in the fourth quarter."

Heading into its next game Friday afternoon - again against Indiana, this time at Conseco Fieldhouse - the Wizards at least can be encouraged by their defiance down the stretch against the Pacers on Wednesday. Washington surged to a 17-point lead with 6 minutes 36 seconds to play on Wall's driving layup, but Indiana trimmed the deficit to eight points shortly thereafter, and it appeared as if another breakdown was at hand.

The Wizards instead scored eight consecutive points and the Pacers never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way. Guard Nick Young factored significantly in the fourth quarter, drawing two charging fouls and adding a steal that led to a three-pointer. Young finished with a game-high 25 points with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals in perhaps his most complete game since becoming the starter at shooting guard following the deal that sent Gilbert Arenas to Orlando for Rashard Lewis.

"We're in need of one," Young said of winning on the road. "And we're due for one because we've come close a lot of times, and hopefully we can get over this hump."

To do so, the Wizards can commit to memory the blueprint of the Pacers victory that not only featured timely scoring but also combative defense throughout, especially on center Roy Hibbert, who is enjoying the most productive season of his brief NBA career.

Washington center JaVale McGee was largely responsible for limiting the former Georgetown standout to five points, four rebounds and five personal fouls in a season-low 15 minutes. Entering Wednesday's game, Hibbert, in his third year in the league, was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds in nearly 30 minutes per game.

The Wizards, however, haven't played particularly well at Indiana. Last season they were 0-2 there, with losses by 16 and 14 points. Washington has not won at Indiana since April 18, 2007.

The Wizards also may be without Coach Flip Saunders for a second consecutive game. Saunders missed all team-related activity on Wednesday to attend to a family emergency, and it's uncertain if he will join the club in Indianapolis. Saunders again was absent from Thursday morning's practice at Verizon Center, leaving top assistant Randy Wittman to run the show. Wittman filled in for Saunders on Wednesday night, and he'll do so again if necessary on Friday.

Wittman coached much of the game without the services of Kirk Hinrich, who left with a left thigh contusion after playing 12 minutes. Hinrich did not re-enter, and his status is day-to-day. Hinrich, averaging close to 35 minutes per game before the injury, had been starting at point guard while Wall was mending from his knee ailment.

"This game is going to be tough," said Blatche, who had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists on Wednesday. "We just got through playing them. It's going to come down to who wants it the most and who's going to work hardest."

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