Wizards vs. Cavaliers: It's time for Washington to win a road game

The Washington Post's LaVar Arrington, Dan Steinberg, Adam Kilgore and Jonathan Forsythe debate whether the Wizards will be able to get their first road win Sunday against the NBA's worst team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington Post Sports Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 4:26 PM

We know one of them has to win. Even the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers can't both lose again Sunday - because they face each other.

But it's now must-win time for Washington. It's the first game of the John Wall era the Wizards cannot afford to lose.

A potential defining moment during an otherwise wasted season is within the Wizards' grasp at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. After 26 straight losses away from Verizon Center - including 25 this season - Washington still hasn't established a floor on the road as it continues the long process of rebuilding.

Sometimes, simply being better than the next guy is enough. If Cleveland is your upcoming opponent, being better than the next guy is a must.

"It's sad to say but it's one of those games you can't lose," Wizards guard Nick Young said.

The Wizards haven't had any in that category for some time. Even their recent victory over Milwaukee at Verizon Center doesn't qualify. The Wizards ended a losing streak at eight games, but their futility on the road could present long-term problems. And Sunday's game may be Washington's best opportunity for a road win this season.

The Wizards' road losing streak is the NBA's third longest all-time to start a season (Dallas tops this list with 29 straight). If the Wizards can display moderate progress on the road, starting with a victory against Cleveland, and Wall's psyche isn't damaged from all the losses in his rookie season, team President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Flip Saunders should view the season as a success.

No matter what the team's final record is, just breaking through on the road (and Wall completing the season unscathed mentally) would be a significant development for the future of the franchise.

Winning on the road separates the good teams from the bad in the NBA, and "I do think once we win one road game, we're gonna settle down," Saunders said. "We'll play with a lot more confidence and be able to win some others on the road."

Sunday's game should be the one. It could provide the spark.

Effort and execution generally are a formula for success on a team's home court in the NBA. Not so on the road. I learned that while covering the Los Angeles Clippers for two seasons. Effort helps for about three quarters when you occupy the visitors' locker room. Execution makes a difference until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Winning on the road in this league is all about star power. Finishers make the difference. Those are the guys who can score late in games, when defenses tighten with outcomes undecided, or get favorable calls from referees when they can't.

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