- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

LOS ANGELES — Going west has never had much appeal to the Washington Wizards over the years — and for good reason.

Yet things are different as Washington prepares to face the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at Staples Center. The Wizards have reason to be optimistic because of their early season play.

“I think we’re excited to be going out west,” shooting guard Larry Hughes said. “We aren’t looking at it like, ‘Oh, no — here we go again.’ We like the way we’ve been playing this season. We’re more confident. This is going to be a good chance for us to measure ourselves.”

It could be argued the Wizards (12-8) already have after being swept in four games by division-leading Miami. But the Heat, who beat the Wizards 98-93 on Wednesday in the closest game between the teams, are starting to come together behind former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal and second-year standout Dwyane Wade.

Tonight the Wizards play the first of four games in five nights, facing a Lakers team that isn’t nearly as foreboding as in years past. Star guard Kobe Bryant is still around, but O’Neal, guard Gary Payton and forward Karl Malone are gone.

“You can’t sell them short, but let’s be honest — they don’t have Shaquille O’Neal on the roster anymore,” guard Gilbert Arenas said. “We have to go at them hard at the start. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”

The Wizards have lost 11 consecutive road games against the Lakers since their last win Feb.14, 1992.

After facing the Lakers, Washington will play at Phoenix, perhaps the most surprising team of the early season. Following a day off, the Wizards play back-to back games at Golden State and Sacramento before a four-day break.

“We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves on this trip,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “We are confident in the way we’re playing right now. But let’s see if we can do better. Let’s go out there and get some wins.”

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