- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

A long and grueling West Coast road trip for the bruised and banged-up Washington Wizards finally comes to an end Monday night with a visit to Utah to play the Jazz.

At 36-38 with eight games left, the Jazz are in 11th place in the Western Conference and are too many games out to be a serious threat for that coveted eighth and final playoff spot. They also are limping to the finish line of the regular season in much the same way the Wizards are. They have lost five in a row, including a 94-77 setback against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

For those well below that eighth spot who find themselves looking forward to sitting on a podium in Secaucus, N.J., on draft lottery night, the past few weeks of the season can be draining. But there is still something to play for - pride, a roster spot for next season, and a chance to assess the heart and character of the guys playing next to you.

Undrafted five-year veteran Ronnie Price, a career backup point guard, is one of those players for whom nothing is guaranteed. Price saw limited time in a two-year career with the Sacramento Kings before signing with the Jazz in 2007. In his four seasons with the Jazz, he averages about 11 minutes, and fewer than 5 points per game.

But his post-game comments after a recent Jazz loss sounded a lot like something the WizardsJohn Wall would say.

“[We have to] play like winners and stop accepting losing,” Price said. “If we have a group of guys who continue to play like winners, we will win games.

“If we have one or two people who decide not to play like winners, then we will lose games. As a team, collectively, we have to continue to play like winners, have a winning attitude and we’ll be all right,” Price said.

Price’s career is a sharp contrast to that of Wall, a No. 1 draft pick who is projected to become a star in the league. But even as a rookie, Wall is not shy about letting his teammates know when they are falling into a losing mentality.

“Until we find five guys that really want to fight, compete and care the whole time, it’s really going to be tough,” Wall said after the Wizards‘ 117-94 loss to the Philadelphia Sixers last month, the first time he publicly called out his teammates.

“It’s just so frustrating to see certain guys acting like they don’t have the effort to be out there, like they don’t care,” Wall said.

From journeyman to future all-star pick, the long last days of the season are a time when players at the bottom of the NBA standings look at the people who surround them on the court and think about who will - and should be - playing alongside them next year.

“No matter if I’m having a good game or bad game, I might show my frustration on my face, but one thing I always did my whole life is compete,” Wall said. “That’s all we ask for from everybody.”