- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2017

The Wizards began a four-game West Coast road trip Monday night, Oct. 23, in Denver. Those two things do not compute.

Washington annually makes two jaunts west. Neither have ever come this early on the calendar. The season usually has not even begun by now. But, there was John Wall on the tarmac Sunday afternoon, hood up, camouflage pants and blacked-out sunglasses on, walking to the plane.

The same thing that typically kicked the Wizards on to the road to begin the NBA season has jettisoned them across the country just three games into it: the Washington International Horse Show.

Every year, Capital One Arena is surrounded by horse trailers in late October. Every year, this sends the Wizards and Capitals out of town. The NBA moved the beginning of this season up by almost two weeks in order to spread out when games are played. That change allowed the Wizards to open a full season at home for the first time since 2008. It meant they played consecutive home games to start the season for the first time since 1978. It also sent them to California less than a week into the season.

“It should be fun, good team bonding,” shooting guard Jodie Meeks said. “I know these guys have been together for a few years now so I’m kind of the new guy. I’m looking forward to it.”

The timing of the trip is well beyond the ordinary. Since 2010, the earliest the Wizards had gone out west for a sustained road trip — this one is four games, starting against Denver, then moving to Los Angeles, Golden State and Sacramento — was Dec. 5. That was in 2011. In 2010, Washington went west Dec. 14.

However, most of the California-focused trips did not start until the calendar turned. Last season, Washington didn’t make this longest of trips until March 7. That was a five-game trip that began in Phoenix. A second trip to California came later that month, when the Wizards played the Lakers on March 28. That scheduling is almost the reverse of this season, when Washington is out west this week and again in the middle of December, then done with such journeys.

Usually, these trips start in January, then hit again in February or March. This season’s upside-down scheduling is a challenge for the Wizards because of injury. Instead of carrying the typical health teams enjoy at the start of a season, Washington is down two power forwards (Markieff Morris and Jason Smith) to open the trip. Morris had offseason sports hernia surgery Sept. 22, then was given a 6-8 week timeline to return to games. He’s into the fifth week of that timeline. Smith, who started the opener in Morris’ place, sprained his shoulder just seven minutes into the game when attempting to block a Joel Embiid dunk.

“We have a lot of veteran guys,” Meeks said. “John [Wall] and Brad [Beal] are still very young, but they’re still vets. This is John’s eighth year and Brad’s sixth and then myself nine, so we’ve got some guys that have kind of been around for a while. I don’t think it will be anything overwhelming, we just have to play good basketball.”

There is intrigue on the trip from known and unknown commodities. The second game will pit Wall versus Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and, ostensibly, his blabbering father, LaVar. A visit to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors, off to a surprising 1-2 start, follows on Friday night.

Washington (2-0) will have played twice as many road games as home games by the time it returns. The rough early scheduling also challenges the Wizards’ chances at exploiting the possibility of a hot start to create some space between themselves and revamped challengers in the Eastern Conference, like Cleveland and Boston, which will be going through an adaptation period. Those teams came into Monday 3-3 combined. Cleveland does not go west until Dec. 25. Boston’s first California trip is Jan. 23. Washington will be done with both its trips before Boston or Cleveland has its first.

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