WASHINGTON — Having lost 10 of their last 11 games, if the Wizards can right the ship soon it will have to be on their longest road trip of the 2022-23 season. Beginning Tuesday in Denver, Washington will play their next six games on the road against Western Conference teams.
They’ll see the Nuggets (16-10), Clippers (16-13), Lakers (11-15), Suns (16-11), Jazz (15-14) and Kings (14-11). The only team of the six without a winning record, the Lakers, just beat the Wizards last weekend. The Wizards will be away from D.C. for 11 days and return on Christmas Eve.
It’s not an easy part of the schedule to navigate as the Wizards deal with a particularly difficult stretch in terms of injuries. In Monday’s loss to the Nets, they were missing Bradley Beal (hamstring), Monte Morris (groin), Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring).
“Hopefully we get some guys back, I think we will. Hopefully that’s the plan,” Kyle Kuzma said. “I think we just have to figure it out, man. It’s a tough stretch. We’ve lost a lot in a row and now we’re going out to the West playing all playoff teams. If we don’t figure it out, it’s going to be a long trip.”
Like most NBA teams, the Wizards have been better at home this season than they have been elsewhere. They have an 8-7 record at home compared to 3-10 on the road. The Wizards have lost seven consecutive road games going back to Nov. 23 in Miami.
Getting healthy would help their cause and so would shooting better in road arenas. The Wizards are 30th in the NBA in road 3-point percentage (28.7) and 28th in free throw percentage (72.0) compared to ninth (38.6) and sixth (81.4) in those categories at home.
“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the lighting, I don’t know,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said about those splits. “I think there is something to be said about homecourt advantage. We don’t practice in this building, but there’s something to be said about being at home in a home environment with a home crowd. It is a stark difference and we’re trying to figure that out.”
The Wizards now have another injury to monitor after Kristaps Porzingis exited Monday’s game with back tightness. He spoke after the game about the challenge of flying across the country with that type of injury. He said he and the training staff will take measures to make sure it doesn’t tighten up on him.
Washington will have two back-to-backs on the trip, though one of them is in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers, so there is no travel in between the games. The other, however, will have them fly from Utah to Sacramento overnight to close out the trip on Dec. 23.
While NBA players travel on chartered planes and stay at the nicest hotels, that’s a lot of time in the air.
“That’s going to be tough, a tough road trip. Especially in this moment, we’re already struggling,” Porzingis said. “It’s tough, you know? What can I say? It’s going to be a long, long road trip with long flights to our games. Strap in and get some dubs, that’s the only thing that matters.”
The overall approach seems to be the same from the Wizards veterans who sized up the upcoming trip after Monday’s game. They need to take it one game at a time and not look at the six games in their totality. They start in Denver on Tuesday where Morris and Will Barton will be returning for the first time since being traded to the Wizards over the offseason.
Unseld Jr. also spent years with the Nuggets coaching under Michael Malone as an assistant. They are familiar with the arena, the altitude and the opposing personnel.
If Porzingis plays, he will have his hands full with back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic. Unseld Jr. knows Jokic’s game very well and will do his best to give Porzingis and backup center Daniel Gafford the necessary tips to manage defending him.
It won’t be an easy matchup or an easy trip, but start with the first one and go from there.
“We’ve gotta go out with the mindset of either we’re going to win them all or come back sad. I don’t want to come back sad,” Gafford said.
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