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Posted at 11:38 PM ET, 02/13/2011

Wizards finally play complete game on the road, defeat woeful Cavaliers

By Michael Lee

I will not be denied my first road win tonight. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)


For a moment, I thought about putting on a plastic poncho and borrowing a pair of Kirk Hinrich's goggles for fear of getting soaked with a champagne shower. But after the Wizards finally won their first road game of the season -- and ended a 26-game road losing streak dating back to April 9 of last season -- the locker room floor didn't need any protective covering. It was filled with relief, laughter -- and jokes about needing to have a championship-caliber celebration.

"Where's the champagne?" reserve Hilton Armstrong joked as reporters entered the locker room after the Wizards dismantled the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-100, at Quicken Loans Arena.

There was none, but the Wizards had a right to be excited about the win, no matter that it came against one the most talent-deficient teams that I've seen, because the slide is over. After 26 games, John Wall can finally say that he knows what it feels like to win away from Verizon Center; Nick Young could enter a pressurized situation and deliver with a string of incredible, heat-check-worthy jumpers; and veterans Josh Howard and Kirk Hinrich could show the Wizards the type of attitude and resolve that's required to win on an opponents' floor.

It was also important for the Wizards to make amends for a despicable performance the night before, when the San Antonio Spurs muddied the couch, raided the refrigerator and flooded the toilets in their house.

"They did whatever they wanted to. It was like a college team playing an elementary team," Wall said about the Spurs. "They got whatever shot they wanted. Like coach said, we had no fight. We had to come out and play hard."

The Wizards (15-38) just have to make sure they don't get too full of themselves. They have three difficult road games ahead against Orlando, Philadelphia and Miami. They won't face the Cavaliers again until the season finale. They don't want to come back on a 14-game road losing streak.

"It was good to get that monkey off our back," JaVale McGee said, "but we got to win on the road still. It's not like we want to win this one and go on another losing streak, but it feels good right now though."

For first time this season, the Wizards came out like a team that was ready to put their road woes behind them, and they also found a way to finish out the game. They shared the ball, compiling a season-high 31 assists. They shot the ball well, making 12 of their first 14 shots and finishing the game shooting 54.3 percent from the floor. They played defense, recording 12 blocked shots -- one short of the season high set on Oct. 30 in Atlanta. And they also controlled the backboards, outrebounding the Cavaliers, 48-43.

"We really played very well," Coach Flip Saunders said. "We came out very focused early and did a lot of things. As I told the guys before the game, if we stayed divided, we're going to crumble. Together, we can be a lot stronger. I thought we shared the ball, a lot of guys carried us at different times, and we didn't play too much out of character."

Young compared the pregame speech to something he heard out of Al Pacino in "Any Given Sunday." He carried the Wizards in the first period, as he scored 16 of his game-high 31 points, taking advantage of a mismatch against the much shorter Daniel Gibson, who was forced to leave with a left quad injury.

Hinrich took control of the team in the second period, as he scored 10 of his 17 points, and added two blocks and one steal, which were very impressive considering how they came about. Hinrich first caught Cavaliers center J.J. Hickson from behind, then he faced him head-on to block another. Later, Hinrich beat Cleveland's 7-foot reserve Ryan Hollins to intercept an alley-oop lob.


Sorry we had to do this to you, 'Tawn. But you understand, right? (AP Photo/ Tony Dejak)

"It was like a must win for us. That's the way I felt. That's the way our team felt coming into the game. I was just trying to give it everything that I had," said Hinrich, who added a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter. "It's something that, as a team you have to be close-knit and stick together to get wins. I think they were excited to get the win. Hopefully don't have to listen to it anymore. Hopefully these young guys gets some confidence getting a road win."

Josh Howard took his turn to take over in the third period, when he scored 10 of his season-high 16 points, proving once again to be an invaluable asset when he's in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers got within 17 points in the third period when Hickson dunked, but Howard responded with a long jumper, then later had a steal and finished a fastbreak by tapping in a lob pass from Wall and making a free throw to put the Wizards back ahead 84-63.

"Throughout the whole game, he kept saying, "Don't let up now,' " Wall said of Howard, who didn't decide to play until the morning shootaround, after Saunders had mentioned the possibility of starting. The Wizards are 4-1 with Howard in the starting lineup, dating back to last season. Howard hadn't started since Feb. 22 of last season.

The Wizards built a 25-point cushion when Young made a long jumper late in the third quarter, and they needed almost every bit when the Cavaliers got hot from beyond the three-point line, making eight in the second half. Jamario Moon hit a three-pointer to bring the Cavaliers within 102-91 with 7 minutes 20 seconds remaining and some doubt started to creep in.

"I said, 'Aw, man. Here we go,' but Flip brought the guys together, and after that, we all started to get in each other's face," Andray Blatche said after scoring 17 points with nine rebounds. "We felt it slipping, we competed until the end."

Blatche was especially pleased that he got the upper hand in his first matchup against Antawn Jamison, whom he used to battle in practice for more than four seasons in Washington. Jamison had 21 points to lead the Cavaliers, hitting his usual three-pointers and long jumpers early in the shot clock, but he walked out the arena, flanked by his kids, and didn't speak with reporters.

"This has been a moment I've been waiting for, definitely to go against him and to get this win," Blatche said. "I've been practice against him for four years, so I pretty much knew the moves he was going to do. When he went to the middle, I kept my hand straight up, because I knew he was going for the foul. I pretty knew what he was going to do before he did it, so it made it easy to guard him."

Wall's contributions certainly can't be overlooked, as he scored 19 points and handed out 14 assists to record his 18th double-double of the season -- and first this month. "I thought John, for his lack of emotion against the Spurs, was very focused and very emotional tonight," Saunders said. "He really put a lot of pressure on them defensively."

Wall's night was not without it's blunders. His teammates won't let him forget about missing a breakaway, left-handed dunk in the second quarter, even though he came back and made his next attempt with two hands.

"Aw, yeah, they got me big time. They said, 'Welcome to the bloopers Top 10,' " Wall said with a laugh. "I made up for it the next play, but it was embarrassing. I could tell when I tired to dunk, it hit the rim, I was like it's off and then I heard the crowd go crazy."

But the Wizards won't have to hear any more jokes about the streak. "At least, now, the guys can watch ESPN again," Saunders said. "They didn't want to watch ESPN because you kept hearing about 0-24 and 0-25. Now, there's nothing for them. More important, not just winning, it's how we won."

Said Young, "We can finally got that road win and we can look on ESPN tonight and see some good things."

By Michael Lee  | February 13, 2011; 11:38 PM ET
Categories:  Andray Blatche, Flip Saunders, John Wall, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Young  
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Next: An emotional night in Cleveland

Comments

I'm all for media hype but to use the phrase "must win" is just plain silly...The reason I say that is what "if" the Wiz DON'T WIN... do they just cancel the rest of the season???

And if they do win, let's not be naive to think it will catapult them to make the playoffs or even finish at .500

".....Just say it's an important win to rebuild confidence and let it go at that...Same for Cleveland, it will not change anything...."

Posted by: pentagon40 | February 13, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Plueeze, stop........just stop the silliness.

Posted by: glawrence007 | February 14, 2011 12:00 AM | Report abuse

Is it okay to be overly optimistic? In their last three games, they have had a winning percentage of 0.6000 and they haven't lost on the road. Can we maybe say playoffs?

Posted by: JustinChuck189 | February 14, 2011 12:02 AM | Report abuse

And today game is no more important than the other 82. They all count the same.

Posted by: dcinmd1 | February 13, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Oh, b-s, nobody wants to be in the record books of futility. Ask any of them [players]. If they've got ANY juice they'll spit it out today.

Posted by: glawrence007 | February 14, 2011 12:03 AM | Report abuse

".......It was like a must win for us. That's the way I felt. That's the way our team felt coming into the game. I was just trying to give it everything that I had," said Hinrich,......"
'Nuff said.

Posted by: glawrence007 | February 14, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Didn't watch the game......so how did AB do against MeTawn?

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | February 14, 2011 12:11 AM | Report abuse

I like the way Josh played tonight. He didn't look rusty at all and had an efficient game for 25 minutes of play.

Posted by: bullwiz81 | February 14, 2011 12:24 AM | Report abuse

...yay...

Posted by: Janitor_with_a_Jumpshot | February 14, 2011 3:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm happy that Simon LeGilbert and his slavies got embarrassed again in their shack The man thought LeBron was a slave, too. If the season ended today, Miami would be top seed in the East?

As for the Wizzes? Reminds me of the scene where the woeful Ruppert Mundys in Roth's The Great American Novel defeat a team from an institution and celebrate wildly; the only person who can see the futility in what they've done is placed in a straitjacket.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 14, 2011 5:22 AM | Report abuse

"Must win"... Like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Beating the Cavs on their court does not mean the Wizards are going to crack .500 or make the playoffs this year. But it does show for the first time in 26 road games that they can play good ball on someone else's court. It gave John Wall, Nick Young and even Andray Blatche a chance to prove themselves to themselves.

It also showed why the Wizards took a smart gamble on Josh Howard, and it alowed some contending teams with something to offer the Wizards in return take a good measure of Kirk Hinrich's potential worth to them.

Most of all, I believe this win got Flip Saunders off the hook for at least the rest of this season. Had the team lost, the pressure to relieve Flip of his duties might well have reached the tipping point.

Posted by: khrabb | February 14, 2011 7:43 AM | Report abuse

And today game is no more important than the other 82. They all count the same.

Posted by: dcinmd1 | February 13, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Oh, b-s, nobody wants to be in the record books of futility. Ask any of them [players]. If they've got ANY juice they'll spit it out today.

Posted by: glawrence007 | February 14, 2011 12:03 AM | Report abuse

I see zero reason to celebrate a victory over a team that has won one game out of the last 29 they have played.

Bascially they tanked the SA game to win this game.

Posted by: dcinmd1 | February 14, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

@Khrabb,

Says who? You? Let me repeat. FS is not the reason this team is losing. And the word "underachieving" is not a word that can be placed anywhere near this squad.

It is a rebuilding team that has had its fair share of injuries and a certain level of upheaval to the roster in the GA trade. I think the Wiz have had the most starting lineups in the NBA thus far. Therefore, any chance at some sort of continuity forming by now through coaching has been stifled.

In addition, FS contract will almost certainly be honored bc it is a fairly expensive one and there is no reason for now for him to not coach this squad. Do you know he has sent the most players from the CBA to the NBA? Ok. I think he can teach and coach.

Posted by: rphilli721 | February 14, 2011 11:14 AM | Report abuse

For flip to be talking about division, and wall saying we don't care who the leading scorer is, they must really do.

Posted by: maejude | February 14, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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