- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

HOUSTON — After the events of the past week, no one could have expected the Washington Wizards to be enjoying themselves as much as they were yesterday after practice at Toyota Center.

But there was veteran forward Antawn Jamison playfully instructing Andray Blatche on which type of sports drink he wanted the rookie to get him and then chastising him for using an unprintable word he “doesn’t want to hear” the rookie use again.

There was Jared Jeffries, a big Dallas Cowboys fan, saying he could forgive Terrell Owens for desecrating the Texas Stadium star because “God, a Cowboy fan, has already forgiven T.O.”

The Wizards had put the finishing touches on preparations for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets, and the light mood was understandable considering what the Wizards have endured on this six-game road trip, which has thus far produced three wins in four games.

Most recently, the Wizards beat the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night without the league’s fourth-leading scorer, Gilbert Arenas, who had flu-like symptoms, and reserve center Brendan Haywood (back).

It was a remarkable win, considering the Wizards have relied on Arenas (fifth in the league in minutes a game) perhaps as much as any team in the league has relied on one player. And the Wizards hadn’t won in Sacramento since 1996.

The Wizards (37-33) have won three games in six days, a showing that belies their struggles on the road: It took them four months just to win 10 road games before this Western Conference road trip began.

“I think we’ve come together,” Jeffries said. “I think if you look at us since the All-Star Game, there have been some tough games that we’ve dropped. But I think the way we are playing right now — and we’re not satisfied at all — is the culmination of everything we’ve been through just making us a tighter unit.”

Jeffries probably is right. Although their 3-1 record on this road trip no doubt has something to do with it, the Wizards appear happier than they have as a unit in some time.

That probably has something to do with the fact the Wizards — while still riding the trio of Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler — have received some impressive performances out of their role players.

Jeffries helped the Wizards to a huge win to begin the road trip when he grabbed 12 rebounds against the Jazz. Two games later, Jeffries had a career-high five blocked shots against the Kings, and he played a role in helping to hold the Kings to just 14 points in the third quarter, a period in which the Wizards have struggled.

That victory also saw guard Billy Thomas come off the bench to lead the team in scoring in the fourth quarter and tie his career-high with 14 points.

And Etan Thomas has looked sturdy as the starting center in the last two games. He even contributed at the offensive end with 12 points against the Kings. It was the most points scored by a Washington center since Haywood scored 14 points against the Cavaliers on Feb. 10.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said he believed the Wizards, currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, are finally coming together.

“We have,” Jordan said. “We said that going in. When people said we didn’t have enough road wins, my response was that you have to play enough road games to get to a certain percentage. That’s why we’re playing 12 out of 16 now and we’re giving ourselves a chance to get some wins.”

The Wizards didn’t need anyone to tell them they played poorly last Saturday in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. And they also know that they can’t afford to get to comfortable in the two remaining games on this trip, beginning with today’s game against Houston and then tomorrow’s at San Antonio.

“There is no getting complacent until they call you and tell you that you are locked into this spot,” Jeffries said. “We don’t want to be like last year around this time where we dropped three or four games on the road. Then we’d be looking at playing Miami or Detroit in the first round. We don’t want that.”

Note — Arenas practiced yesterday and is likely to play, Jordan said. Both Arenas and Haywood will be game-time decisions.

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