- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Having already posted a franchise-worst 4-22 record through 26 games in late December, the Washington Wizards were venturing dangerously close to another shameful milestone.

But with Friday’s 96-89 comeback win over the New York Knicks, Washington improved to 8-31 on the year and avoided the chance to post the worst record in franchise history at the midway point of the season.

That claim to shame belongs to the 2000-01 Wizards, who slogged their way to a 7-34 record.

After that 34th loss, the team won five straight games - their longest winning streak of the season - but finished 19-63.

Fresh off their victory over the Knicks, this batch of Wizards also hope to put together a string of wins as they prepare to embark on a four-game West Coast trip. But their aim is to use such a streak to produce a true turnaround to the season.

“It felt great to get over the hump and get a nice win in front of a nice crowd before you go on the road,” swingman Caron Butler said after Friday night’s win. “Hopefully we’ll ride that momentum, get a couple more wins. We’re due for a good win streak, so hopefully that kicked it off.”

The Wizards begin their road trip Monday with a stop in Oakland, Calif., against 12-29 Golden State, and if they win, it would mark only their second two-game winning streak of the season. From there, the Wizards head to Sacramento, where they’ll face the Kings (10-31) on Wednesday, the Lakers (31-8) on Thursday and the Portland Trail Blazers (24-15) on Saturday.

The first time the Wizards faced Golden State, Ed Tapscott had just taken over as coach and Washington rolled to a 124-100 victory. Since then, Tapscott has tried to stamp a more defensive-minded focus on a team that had been offensive-oriented. But the wins have remained few and far between, and the progress has been slow.

“I had hoped we would have embraced a certain alteration to our style more quickly, but we’ve had guys together for three and four years, doing things on a certain way,” Tapscott said. “It takes a while for that to evolve in a different direction because under stress, you end up doing what you’ve done habitually.

“But we’ve got to accept life with limitations right now. It’s not the same anymore. But all that means is accepting alteration of style and alteration of approach, but not alteration of outcome. We still have enough talent in that locker room to win.”

On Friday against the Knicks, the Wizards displayed some of the discipline Tapscott has preached about. They slowed the pace of the game, patiently worked for quality shots and clamped down on defense to limit New York’s firepower.

The Wizards will face a similar style of play in Golden State. After besting a fast-paced, high-scoring opponent in the Knicks, Washington considers itself well-prepared for the Warriors.

“We’ve got to continue to execute on offense, slow the pace up and try to trap them out and execute, get points in the paint then work inside-out,” Butler said. “Because once you establish the floor game, you can do a little bit of everything.”


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