- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

He’s the kind of coach who often will take his time to answer a reporter’s question. Sometimes, Eddie Jordan will ponder what’s in front of him by looking at the ceiling. He might even stroke his chin before he replies.

But when asked about the importance of his team’s looming six-game road trip out West, the Washington Wizards’ coach answered almost as soon as the question had been asked.

“We’ve been looking at this road trip since the schedule came out in August,” Jordan said. “If this is our defining moment, then let’s get at it.”

Beginning tonight in Utah (32-35), the Wizards (34-32) will play six games in 10 days away from Verizon Center.

The Wizards won’t return until April 4, when they play host to New York. Going into last night’s games, the Wizards were fifth in the Eastern Conference, holding a half-game lead over both Indiana and Milwaukee.

The trip is daunting not because it is almost two weeks long but because the Wizards’ road woes are well documented. The Wizards have 10 road wins, fewest among the top nine Eastern Conference teams. Even lottery-bound Toronto has more road wins (12) than the Wizards.

But reminded of the challenge ahead, Wizards forward Caron Butler said the team is looking forward to it. He pointed out the Wizards have responded well to adversity, referencing a stretch that saw the team win 16 of 24 games to go from six games under .500 to playoff contenders.

“I think the character of this team has already been revealed in the face of adversity,” Butler said. “Early on, when a lot of people were writing us off, I think we bounced back. Coach did a great job of getting the right guys out there, the rotation was good and we stepped up. Now this is another challenge. We’ve got to step up. It’s a must that we go .500 or better, and I think we are prepared to do that.”

The Wizards were hoping to use Tuesday’s game against New Jersey as a springboard, a chance to build some momentum for the trip. But the Atlantic Division leaders took the Wizards apart in the fourth quarter, making 75 percent of their field goals and again bringing into question the Wizards’ ability to defend.

The Wizards are putting a huge emphasis on the Utah game because they believe it is important to begin the swing with a win. On their trip West before Christmas, the Wizards lost three straight before rebounding with wins at Denver and Phoenix.

“It’s six games, and pretty much everybody we’re playing is a quality team,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “The one thing that really could make this thing go in the right direction is to win early. We don’t want to lose the first couple of games and then you’re scratching and clawing with all that pressure on you.”

After they play at Utah, the Wizards face the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and San Antonio.

“We’re confident,” Butler said. “We don’t doubt our ability to go out and have a successful trip.”

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