- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The way Antawn Jamison sees it, the Washington Wizards’ road losing streak began to weigh on him on the team’s charter flight home from Memphis in the wee hours of the morning of Nov. 25.

And the franchise-record eight-game road losing skid to open the season still does, even after the Wizards ended the Dallas Mavericks’ league-high 12-game winning streak Monday. Washington, however, has another chance to break that drought tonight against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

“I think it’s more mental than anything,” Jamison said after his 20 points and 12 rebounds helped the Wizards (7-10) beat Dallas 106-97. “But it’s becoming a burden, and it’s becoming a distraction. We have yet to solve our problems.”

The Wizards’ streak is daunting but nowhere near a league record. That belongs to the 1992-93 Mavericks, who began the season with 29 straight road losses. However, if they lose tonight they will become the first team since the 2003-04 Portland Trail Blazers to lose their first nine road games.

That Portland team lost its first 10 road games and then rallied to finish the season 41-41.

The Wizards’ problems are best exemplified in the performance of their best player, whose road problems are by far the most pronounced. Arenas is averaging 33.7 points a game at home but just 17.6 points away from Verizon Center, a difference of 16.1 points.

To put that into perspective, the largest home-road scoring differential in league history was in the 1963-64 season, when Philadelphia’s Lee Shaffer averaged 10.2 more points in home games than he did on the road. Adrian Dantley is second on that list. As a member of the Utah Jazz during the 1982-83 season, Dantley’s home-road differential was 10.0 points.

“It’s hard to explain, but we’re just a completely different team when we’re on the road,” Arenas said.

The best possible news for the Wizards is that their competition over the next two games is, at best, horrid. The Knicks (7-13) play better on the road than they do in front of their booing fans at the Garden, where they are 2-7. Their next game is against Philadelphia, which has lost 11 of its last 13 games and isn’t playing well anywhere these days.

However, the Wizards can’t think about that. It probably would be better to focus on the play of their bench and anyone but Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler.

The Wizards’ reserves have lacked punch this season. Part of the reason is they have been without the services of injured Darius Songaila (back surgery), who might not be back until just around the All-Star break.

Recently, they also have been without injured backup power forward/center Michael Ruffin (foot). As a result, the reserves are small and/or inexperienced with the exception of Brendan Haywood.

Although Wizards coach Eddie Jordan doesn’t place a premium on his bench’s scoring ability, the Wizards’ bench averages just 22.17 points a game, 25th in the league.

“Everyone has to play better,” Jordan said. “Your bench has to be enthusiastic, and you have to have your bench ready to play. For the most part when we’re on the road our bench has not stepped up.”

But the Wizards believe road wins will come, the defense will be better and ultimately they will be a force in the Eastern Conference this season.

“We’re not a team that’s panicking,” center Etan Thomas said. “We know what we can do and what we’re capable of. We’re waiting to put it all together. Of course we’re frustrated. I’ll say that because we know we can play a lot better than we have so far. And we will.”

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