Finally, practice draws a crowd

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Optimism hasn't exactly been in liberal supply of late for the Washington Wizards, who won just three times in December and have won twice over their last 10 games.

Throw in injuries to prized rookie point guard John Wall, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and former all-star Josh Howard, and the mood at times was downright gloomy for a team that has been seeking anything close to stability since the start of the season.

At least for one day, Coach Flip Saunders and the rest of the club had something positive on which to lean in that regard when all 15 players participated in practice for the first time on Tuesday morning before departing for Philadelphia, where the Wizards are seeking their first road win.

"I was listening to the Boston game this past weekend, and [color analyst] Tommy Heinsohn was saying, 'Poor Doc, he's going through his fifth starting lineup' and how he's had to make so many changes and how it's got to be so tough," Saunders said, referring to Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. "We were at 15 or 16 or whatever, but I mean it's all a part of it."

Among the players who participated in practice were Hinrich and Howard, both of whom were inactive in Saturday night's 92-81 loss to New Orleans at Verizon Center. Hinrich missed the game following a left thigh contusion that forced him from a 104-90 victory over the Pacers on Dec. 29 after 12 minutes. Hinrich practiced for a second consecutive day.

Howard, meantime, sat out against the Hornets with a sore left knee 11 days after making his season debut with Washington. Howard joined the Wizards last season during a trade deadline deal but suffered a season-ending knee injury in his fourth game.

He got back on the court this season on Dec. 22.

Neither player appeared encumbered by his ailment during the portion of practice open to the media, and Wizards officials were optimistic that both would be able to play on Wednesday night.

"It's a good thing to see everybody out there," said Howard, who is averaging nine points and 3.3 rebounds in seven games this season. "Getting healthy. Like I said, we still need to work on some things that will carry over into games, but other than that, it's a good feeling to have everybody out there."

The Wizards' primary objective in the immediate future is to win on the road. Washington is a league-worst 0-16 in such games, and it is the last team in the NBA without a road victory. Even the two teams with worse winning percentages than the Wizards overall - Cleveland and Sacramento - have at least two victories away from home.

Washington (8-24) in recent games has had its chances to end that dubious streak, most notably when it forged a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in Houston on Dec. 27. But it fell apart thereafter in a 100-93 loss. The Wizards also had momentum heading into their New Year's Eve road game against Indiana after throttling the Pacers, 104-90, only days earlier.

Washington lost at Indiana, 95-86.

"Do we want to win on the road? There's no question," Saunders said. "But as I told our guys, we're trying to create an environment on how we're going to play for long-term success, and that if we play that way, the wins will come, whether it's at home or on the road, so I think that's what we're trying to establish more than anything else."

Wall has played with all of that and then some in each of Washington's victories over the 76ers, both coming in overtime. In a 116-115 thriller on Nov. 2, Wall barely missed a triple-double with a career-high 29 points, 13 assists and 9 steals, also a career high. Three weeks later, Wall contributed 25 points and six assists in a 116-114 win.

Washington draws Philadelphia in its first game at Wachovia Center since Dec. 17. The 76ers are just back from a season-high eight-game trip where they went 3-5. They have lost five of seven after winning eight of 11 and have had modest returns from No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner.

While Wall has shown glimpses of validating his selection as the No. 1 overall choice despite a series of injuries this season, Turner is averaging just seven points per game and is shooting 39 percent, although he has averaged 14 points over his past three games after averaging 3.4 in his previous 15.

"Most of the time we're out there at the same time, we're not really guarding each other," Wall said of his matchup with Turner. "I really don't take it as a one-on-one battle. . . . He got picked number two. I got picked number one. Every time we play each other, they're going to make it into a big one. He's probably going to come out and try to have a big game tomorrow."

Wizards note: The time of Washington's home game against Phoenix on Jan. 21 has been changed to 7 p.m. The game was originally scheduled as an ESPN telecast at 8 p.m., but will now be broadcast by Comcast SportsNet.


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