- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

No one in the Washington Wizards’ locker room is calling Wednesday’s 108-91 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers a signature win.

The team is simply hoping the performance, which snapped a six-game losing streak and marked the season debut of forward Antawn Jamison, can serve as a building block for a turnaround in what has been a trying month.

“Right now it’s a win, but it’s a win against a team we’ve been battling,” said Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who has struggled for the most part during his team’s 3-7 start. “It may have been ugly early in the game, but we always play well here against them. We’ll take this win and keep moving on. We’ve got about five more games in this month, and we’d like to finish it off right.”

Nine of the Wizards’ first 10 games were against teams with winning records (including eight playoff participants from last season). The going during the five-game stretch ahead gets only slightly easier.

Up first is the Oklahoma City Thunder, a young but budding team led by Kevin Durant, who ranks sixth in the league in scoring with 27.1 points a game. Friday’s matchup will take place in Oklahoma City, where the Wizards have never won, and the next night brings a tilt with the Spurs in San Antonio, where Washington has lost nine straight times.

The Wizards come home to face former coach Eddie Jordan and the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, then three days later hit the road for their third matchup this season against the Miami Heat (against whom they are 0-2). On Nov. 28, Washington closes out the month at home against the only Southeast Division team with a worse record - 3-8 Charlotte.

Washington is no stranger to slow starts, but the players are hoping they can produce a turnaround similar to the one in the 2006-07 season, when the Wizards won six straight games after dropping their first five.

Having gone through that experience and with both Jamison and starting shooting guard Mike Miller back healthy, the Wizards are confident they can rebound.

The Wizards naturally would like to have a winning record heading into December, but coach Flip Saunders said the best way to accomplish that is to remain focused squarely on the immediate task at hand rather than surveying the entire schedule ahead.

“Your sense of urgency has to be your next game,” Saunders said after Thursday’s practice. “When you start worrying about where you’re going to be as far as the end, I think you just take each game one game at a time. And my philosophy is each game you try to play because if you play good, you give yourself a chance to win - especially on the road.”

To play well on the road, the Wizards know they’ll have to stick to the basic principles of taking care of the ball, defending and rebounding. Neglecting the first item on that list cost the Wizards in six straight losses. But on Wednesday, they finally managed to curb their turnover problem. After entering the game averaging 15.4 turnovers, Washington had just 12 against Cleveland.

“The biggest difference was the ball moved because our defense has been pretty good,” center Brendan Haywood said. “But it’s been the fact that things get tough and guys are jab-stepping, holding, holding, holding. No - you’ve gotta get off that. [If] you don’t have it in your first two, three dribbles, pass it to your teammate. … When the ball moves, we’re a good team. When the ball sticks, we’re not that good.”

Having four proven scorers in Jamison, Miller, Arenas and Butler around defensive cornerstone Haywood (averaging a career-high 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game) also was conducive to good ball movement and a more balanced offensive attack. And that’s what the Wizards were banking on having when they reported for training camp.

“Myself, [Arenas] and [Jamison] out there together, guys stepping up and doing some magnificent things, this is what we expect when all of us back and having good team continuity out there,” Butler said. “We expect to win games.”

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