Wizards take on Knicks to begin rough stretch on the road
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 8:23 PM
As gratifying as Saturday's come-from-behind victory over Boston was for the Washington Wizards, players had precious little time to rejoice over their accomplishment. A punishing schedule simply won't allow for it.
With the image of rookie point guard John Wall's winning three-pointer off the glass still resonating, the Wizards boarded a charter plane the following morning for New York, where on Monday night they play the first of yet another set of two games in as many nights. Washington is in the early stages of five such series in a row, all against teams virtually assured of the playoffs or well within reach of one of the final slots.
The Wizards play five of their next six on the road, beginning with an appearance at venerable Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, once resurgent but currently mired in a six-game losing streak. Washington's stirring victory over Boston coupled with New York's recent misfortunes evoked the inevitable and inescapable question of whether the club finally was in store for a road victory after 20 such losses in a row to start the season.
"I hope it means a win on Monday to get that monkey off our back," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said. "That's one thing [beating Boston] does mean. As we told our guys after the game, we've got to play with the same passion, the same defensive intensity on the road that we play at home."
For at least several hours, though, following the Wizards' most encouraging win this season, the team's disposition was bordering on euphoric in spite of its upcoming travel plans. Rightly so, too, considering Washington erased a 16-point deficit in the first quarter and a 10-point gap at halftime to vanquish the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
The win also came on the heels of the Wizards dealing with a new cluster of injuries, most notably veteran guard Kirk Hinrich's hyperextended right elbow, which is scheduled for further testing perhaps on Monday. Hinrich incurred the injury during the fourth quarter of Friday night's 109-91 loss to Phoenix and was inactive against the Celtics.
With Hinrich serving as Wall's only backup, the Wizards had to scramble to find another player to fill that roll for Saturday night. Enter Mustafa Shakur, a D-Leaguer signed to a 10-day contract before arriving at Verizon Center roughly four hours before tip-off against Boston.
Shakur, a rookie who played college basketball at Arizona, wound up leading Washington with five assists, one more than Wall, and added five points in 10 minutes. He also did not have a turnover, while Wall had five.
The Wizards' No. 1 overall pick, of course, more than recouped an off night handling the ball by banking in his most dramatic shot of the season in what amounted to an unofficial road win. At significant junctures during the game, chants of "Let's Go Celtics" erupted throughout Verizon Center, where vocal Boston supporters appeared to outnumber those of the Wizards, at least in decibel level.
"I think you should give us a road game because there were more Boston people here than Washington," Saunders said. "We're 1-20 on the road. We'll take that as a road win."
The reality, however, is that Washington remains the only team in the NBA without one and is nine games from matching the longest such streak to start a season. The Wizards last won on the road on April 9, 2010, topping Boston, 106-96.
Not only would beating the Knicks end Washington's futility on the road, but it also would mean the team's second two-game winning streak this season. Washington won consecutively for the first time on Jan. 15 and 17, beating Toronto and Utah, respectively. The Wizards then went to Milwaukee, where they lost, 100-87.
Compounding matters for Washington is its five consecutive losses to the Knicks, including two this season. The Wizards lost by six at home but by 21 on Nov. 5 at the Garden. Washington has not won there since Dec. 6, 2006, when Gilbert Arenas had 38 points and Antawn Jamison 33 in 113-102 triumph. Andray Blatche is the only player from that roster still with the team.
"I hope so. We said it the last time we were on a two-game winning streak," Wall said when asked if beating Boston could be the impetus required to secure that elusive road victory. "Hopefully so. Like coach said, we've got to come out there with the same intensity, not just because it was a great Boston team that we were playing against. Every night you've got to step out there and play very hard."