- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The riddle of the Wizards manifested itself in antithetical manner the last two games, the team down by 30 points in Chicago and up by 31 on Fun Street.

The Wizards appear to be playing their version of the X Games, which exceeds the customary spirit of the home/road quandary.

Home is where the crowd can lift the uninspired, with the help of the three referees, as human as the players and ever responsive to cheers of approval.

The road prompts a change in the daily routine: a different mattress, a change in diet and a potentially compromised immune system from inhaling a jet’s toxic brew of recycled air at 35,000 feet.

All this is fairly standard in the NBA, which does not adequately address the anemia of the Wizards in foreign venues.

Coach Eddie Jordan has termed it a “mystery,” as good a word as any, unless you have a thorough background in psychology and are acutely familiar with the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders.”

As it is, the Wizards have become B.F. Skinner’s team.

The Wizards have become conditioned to expect the worst on the road and the opposite at home.

They are world-beaters in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood and the nine-win 76ers of 1972-73 on the road.

They possibly are guilty of overthinking the unthinkable, as Ernie Grunfeld said by telephone yesterday.

“When you lose a number of games on the road, it can get in your head a little bit,” he said. “But all it takes is a win or two to change that.”

The Wizards are in New York to play the Knicks tonight. This is road game No. 9 for the Wizards, the first eight all losses, one already registered in the house of Isiah.

The Wizards are making the road out to be more than it is, judging by the downward trend there.

They opened the season with a three-point loss in Cleveland, followed by a three-point loss in Orlando, both games competitive.

Their output in both losses was reasonable enough: 94 and 103 points, respectively.

This has been followed by startling ineptness on offense: 82, 91, 80, 82, 80 and 94.

The 94-point output in Chicago was merely an indication of the game being decided in the third quarter. Peter John Ramos would have earned a few minutes in the Chicago debacle if he were still around.

The Wizards are left to scratch their heads after each act of feebleness on the road.

It starts with Gilbert Arenas, of course, and the trickle-down effect eventually subjugates all the rest.

Arenas cares an awful lot, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

It has made him what he is, a free spirit with a prodigious work ethic. It also gives him a strong sense of responsibility to those who had faith in him before others did. That covers the owner, president of basketball operations and the coach.

“Sometimes he wants it too bad,” Grunfeld said. “But I’m not concerned about Gil. It is going to even out over the course of the season. He’s too good. He’s a competitor who has won a number of games on the road for us in the past. I think in a couple of the games on the road, he got into early foul trouble, which limited his aggressiveness.”

Until there is a breakthrough, the Wizards are up against a mental block, not easily addressed on the practice court or with talk or with an X and an 0.

“I wish there was an easy answer,” Grunfeld said.

A victory over a team that reached the NBA Finals in June could provide the Wizards with the mental purge they so desperately need.

Or not.

Their shortcoming, after all, rests in the dark recesses of the mind, a bewildering state.

“Obviously, we have to change what we are doing on the road,” Grunfeld said.

A cure is available tonight.

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