The Washington Times - December 14, 2009, 10:02PM

     LOS ANGELES — The Washington Wizards tonight will take on the Los Angeles Clippers for their first game of a four-game road trip this week.

     Four games in six days, including a back-to-back on the tail end of the trip, can be a tough stretch, but the Wizards couldn’t have asked for better matchups as they will face three losing teams before drawing an unfavorable matchup against the Suns.


     So, Flip Saunders is looking for a better effort from top to bottom and hopes that the Wizards can use this trip to refocus, unite and spark a turn-around.

     “Hopefully you use it to get your guys together a little bit. It’d be nice if Mike [Miller] was healthy, but he’s not, but it’s chance to get your guys together and let them focus,” Saunders said.

     His expectations for tonight: “We just have to come out and play. We hope to get a carry over from the good of the last couple games and try to erase some of the bad situations we had that really put us in a hole.”

     DeShawn Stevenson again will start at shooting guard for the Wizards after fitting in nicely in his return to the starting lineup. Flip said he’ll use Nick as a spark off the bench, but again stressed the importance of maturity out of Nick.

     “He’s got to be a spark off the bench. But he’s also got to do some of the other things. He can’t be one dimensional,” Saunders said. I asked him if this was just a young-player type of thing of if he was having to hammer this home with Nick a little more. “A little bit more with Nick,” Flip replied. “For example, he hit a big shot, a 3, and he’s coming down, celebrating on the right side trying to give one of our guys on the bench a high five and his guy’s shooting a 3 on the left wing. Those are the things that can’t happen.”

     The Wizards believe their problems can be easily fixed with some improved effort and focus. You could say that they’re not too, too far off considering they lost four games by a combined nine points. But the way they’ve been losing is just one goof-up after another or one poorly executed play or two, and you say, ‘A good team or even a fringe team wouldn’t do that.’

     Washington seems to have corrected the first-quarter holes it was digging for itself, but now they have replaced with sloppy second quarter showings, which Saunders blamed on a lack of aggression and decisiveness out of his bench.

     “Our bench has come in, they’ve turned the ball over and given up some scoring drives,” Saunders said. “Some of the guys are coming in the second quarter and doing what our first unit was doing: everybody’s trying to test themselves out and see if they’ll be hot. And now what’s happened out, the first team has a rhythm and the second team has to take a few shots to see where they’re at, and at the same time have some defensive letdowns.”

     Getting back to Mike Miller, the guard is on the trip with the Wizards, but he’ll be staying behind in Los Angeles a few days to work with a physical therapist while the Wizards head from here to Sacramento immediately after this game. Saunders said hopefully in about five days or so Miller will be able to start running again and then start working his way back toward getting back on the court.

     The 9-13 Clippers will start Barron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.