The regular season hasn't even started, but the Washington Wizards are already eager to get home after a long road trip.
After Sunday night's 75-71 loss to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center, a happy group of Wizards flew home. They will be off Monday and then practice at MCI Center the next three days before traveling to Indiana for their final preseason game Friday night.
The extended road trip, which began on Oct. 13 with a game against San Antonio in Winston-Salem, N.C., has given the Wizards an opportunity to bond but has also taken some zip out of the players' legs. After playing inspired basketball against the Los Angeles Lakers in Bakersfield, Calif., on Tuesday, the team at times looked flat during games against Charlotte and Denver in Los Angeles.
"It's a fact of life that we've been on the West Coast so it's going to be nice to get back home and have some practices on our home court," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "The good thing is that we've had some real lively practices out here. Guys have been really competing and that's what you want to see as you get ready for the season."
The Wizards played without all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison on Sunday night. Arenas, who missed the San Antonio and Memphis games with groin soreness, still had redness and some swelling around his right eye after taking an elbow to the face in the team's loss to Denver on Friday. Arenas went through some shooting drills before the game Sunday night and said he plans on getting back to practice this week.
Jamison, who had started all five previous games, sat out with a shoulder bruise he suffered in the Denver game. Jamison warmed up with some shooting before Sunday night's game and said he probably would have played in a regular season game.
With Arenas and Jamison out of the lineup, the Wizards got off to their worst offensive start of the preseason Sunday night. Washington made only 3 of 18 shots and scored a preseason-low 10 points in the first quarter.
Jordan started Chucky Atkins and Antonio Daniels in the back court, Caron Butler and Jared Jeffries at forward and Brendan Haywood at center. It was the fifth different lineup Jordan has utilized this preseason. That fluctuation has made it difficult for the Wizards to develop the kind of cohesion they will need when the regular season tips off on Nov. 2 at Toronto.
"When we've had our five guys on the floor at the start, we have played well," Jordan said, pointing to the Lakers game in which the Wizards scored 31 first-quarter points and their regulars outperformed the Lakers' regulars before Jordan turned over the game to reserves in the fourth quarter. "There has been a sense of coming together, playing together. That's why it will be nice to get home and have three straight days to practice this week."
Wizards Notes: Atkins and Butler played some of their best basketball of the preseason. Atkins, making his third start, scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half; Butler scored 11 of his team-high 22 points during the third quarter. Atkins added eight rebounds and four assists.
Former Wizard Juwan Howard scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Rockets, who were led by Yao Ming's 20 points. The Wizards shot just 36.1 percent. . . .
Guard Jarvis Hayes (knee soreness) and forward Awvee Storey (hamstring) also did not play Sunday night. . . .
Former Maryland star Lonny Baxter, who played 12 games with the Wizards during the 2003-04 season, did not play Sunday night. He is averaging 10.6 minutes, 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds during the preseason for the Rockets.