By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 12:53 AM
CLEVELAND - The last time the Washington Wizards won a road game, LeBron James was leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the best record in the league and John Wall was a freshman at Kentucky who had just declared for the NBA draft. Since James left for Miami as a free agent and Wall was selected No. 1 overall, it has been a long, difficult trek for the Wizards and the Cavaliers, with the Wizards unable to win away from Verizon Center and the Cavaliers struggling to win anywhere.
But in one of the few games that the Wizards felt they couldn't lose - no matter the location - Wall helped lead his team to its first road victory of the season, 115-100 over the lowly Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The victory ended the third-longest road losing streak to start a season in NBA history at 25 games, and it also was the first road win for the franchise since April 9, a drought of 26 games in all. In the giddy locker room afterward, reserve forward Hilton Armstrong jokingly asked, "Where's the champagne?"
The Wizards (15-38) didn't have a championship-caliber celebration, but they were definitely on an emotional high after dominating the Cavaliers from the opening tip, building a 25-point lead and even withstanding a furious fourth-quarter run that chopped it to 11. Nick Young scored a game-high 31 points, but after scoring 19 points with 14 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots, Wall couldn't wipe the grin from his face after waiting until his 26th career road game to experience how it felt to win away from Verizon Center.
"It felt like Christmas," Wall said. "I thought I was going to get one pretty early. Luckily, we got it out the way. We didn't want to celebrate too much, because we got more games to win and we want to act like we've been in this situation before, which we haven't. Now we've got to build on it, and someway somehow, get on a winning streak."
The game featuring two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference may have lost some of its something's-got-to-give significance when the Cavaliers ended their NBA-record 26-game losing streak on Friday with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers. But it carried a lot of meaning for the Wizards, who still had a road streak of their own that they had to put to rest before it became even more of a burden.
At the team breakfast on Sunday, Coach Flip Saunders challenged his players to win their individual matchups and encouraged them to take advantage of their best opportunity to get a road win, with upcoming road games looming against playoff contenders Orlando, Philadelphia and Miami. Saunders and assistant Randy Wittman also added some inspirational words shortly before tip-off and the Wizards jumped on the Cavaliers right away, making 12 of their first 14 shots and taking a 26-10 lead with 5 minutes 30 seconds left in the first period.
"We all got pumped. It was like a clip from 'Any Given Sunday,' and we rallied up from that," said Young, who scored 16 points in the first period. "We all played great. Played with a lot of energy, blocking shots, passing the ball. It was just a great feeling today. That's what we was supposed to do."
They Wizards had added incentive to play well after getting humiliated at home by the San Antonio Spurs the night before. They also got a boost from the return of Josh Howard, who missed the previous 19 games with discomfort in his left knee. Saunders inserted Howard in the starting lineup for the first time since Howard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last Feb. 22.
Howard didn't shoot in the first period, as he let his teammates build a commanding lead, but he started to show his influence when he returned to the game. He finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals, providing solid help defense and a stabilizing presence on the court. Dating from last season, the Wizards are 4-1 when Howard starts.
"Guys kept playing hard," Howard said. "It was a big win, now we've got to be ready to turn the page and see what this feels like."
The Wizards also got a long overdue reunion with Antawn Jamison, who faced his former team for the first time since he was dealt to Cleveland at the trade deadline last season. Jamison originally joined a championship contender built around two-time league MVP James, but he is now a member of the team that has made the most precipitous fall - from best record in the league to the worst in one season - in league history.
Jamison led the Cavaliers with 21 points, but the Wizards attacked him defensively with Andray Blatche, who refers to Jamison as a mentor after battling him in practice for more than four seasons. Blatche made his first four shots, including a dunk to start the game, and finished with 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
"This has been a moment I've been waiting for, definitely to go against him and to get this win," Blatche said. "I know it hurts him to lose to us, but I told myself, it was impossible to come out here and lose. It's one of the best feelings in a while."
Kirk Hinrich joked with his teammates in the locker room after the game, as the veteran guard finally got to experience something he had grown familiar with in Chicago. He played like he really wanted the win, as he came off the bench to score 17 points, adding five assists, blocking two shots - both on Cavaliers center J.J. Hickson (16 points, 13 rebounds) - and even outjumping Cavaliers reserve center Ryan Hollins to steal an alley-oop pass.
"I was trying to dig down, give everything I've got. It was like a must-win for us," Hinrich said. "It's fun to win on the road. More fun than winning at home."