- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Washington Wizards earned a key victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, but players and coaches had little time to celebrate.

Soon after the Wizards checked that win off their to-do list, it was time to focus on their next daunting task: five Western Conference road games in seven days, starting tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“It’s a very important trip,” team captain Antawn Jamison said. “We’ll have some quality opponents who play well at home. But we also have an opportunity to win some games as well if we go on this road trip focused. Our biggest problem has been trying to win on the road, so we have to get that chemistry down and try to find a way to win in hostile environments.”

The Wizards play in Seattle tomorrow before traveling to Sacramento to face the Kings on Friday. On Sunday, the Wizards visit Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers (48-22) before concluding the trip against Utah (46-25) on Monday.

The trip comes at a crucial time for Washington, which is 36-33 and owns the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Wizards (36-33) have been mediocre on the road this season, going 15-18 entering tonight. But they have fared better lately, winning five of their last six games away from Verizon Center.

Looking for their first four-game winning streak in 2008, the Wizards are playing their best basketball at the right time. But the key to succeeding on this road trip is simple, according to Wizards coach Eddie Jordan: “Each game is a singular event.”

Looking ahead probably is not a luxury the Wizards can afford. In this case, they can’t be overwhelmed by the length of the journey or the impressive campaigns of Portland, Los Angeles and Utah or discount the struggles of Seattle and Sacramento.

“One thing that’s served us well is worrying about the game at hand, and right now the only thing that’s important is Portland,” said point guard Antonio Daniels, who had nine assists in the victory over Detroit. “We’ll take it from there and worry about the other games as they come. … Hopefully we can carry that momentum that we’ve had on this three-game winning streak into Portland.”

Portland, playing without No. 1 pick Greg Oden, has exceeded expectations this season. Despite posting one more victory than the Wizards, the Trail Blazers are 6½ games out of the playoffs because of the highly competitive Western Conference. The Wizards won the first meeting 109-90 on Nov. 17 at Verizon Center.

“We’ve got to be ready to play against a high-caliber young team that has an excellent coaching staff,” Jordan said. “It’s a completely different animal out there. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to put our road hat on and get ready for a boisterous crowd in Portland.”

Still, the Wizards can see how important this trip is simply by looking at the standings. After going 0-5 on a western swing earlier this month, Toronto slid past them, and the Wizards fell to sixth place.

“We’re not getting complacent. We’re not getting overly excited where we are,” Daniels said. “We realize it’s a lot of the season left and we have to take care of business.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

When: 10 p.m.

Where: Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.

TV/radio: CSN, AM-980

Probable starters: WizardsF Antawn Jamison, F Caron Butler, C Brendan Haywood, G Antonio Daniels, G DeShawn Stevenson.Trail BlazersF Martell Webster, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C Joel Przybilla, G Brandon Roy, G Steve Blake.

Injuries: Wizards— G Gilbert Arenas (knee), C Etan Thomas (heart surgery). Trail Blazers— F Darius Miles (knee), C Greg Oden (knee).

Outlook: With a win tonight, the Wizards would have their first four-game winning streak since Dec. 15. … Washington seeks to protect its fifth-place standing in the Eastern Conference playoff race, while Portland is in 10th in the West and is 6½ games behind Golden State, which holds the last playoff spot. … Second-year guard Brandon Roy leads the Trail Blazers in scoring with 19.7 points a game. Former Wizards and Maryland guard Steve Blake is Portland’s starting point guard, averaging 8.3 points and 5.0 assists.

Mike Jones

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