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Wizards' struggles on road could make this an ugly trip

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Up next: Hot Knicks at Garden

The timing could be better.

The Wizards (29-48) face four playoff teams in their final five games of the season, starting Tuesday against the hottest team in the NBA, the New York Knicks (50-26). They then will come back to the District on Wednesday to host the Miami Heat (60-16), who have rested LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh recently but haven't yet clinched homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

"Those are always the fun ones to play and compete against: the guys that we're going to see playing later on at the end of April and into May and June," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.

Up next
Wizards at Knicks
When » Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Madison Square
Garden, New York
TV » CSN

But what makes the latest visit to Madison Square Garden so daunting is that it hasn't so much mattered who the Wizards have played but where.

With Sunday's loss at Boston, the Wizards fell to 7-31 on the road, keeping them tied for the second-fewest wins away from home in the league. While they have won nine straight at Verizon Center, including the last two against teams headed to the postseason, they have been indiscriminate about who they have fallen to on the road.

The Celtics were destined to be a difficult opponent as they welcomed back Kevin Garnett following an eight-game absence. But losses at lottery-bound Toronto, Orlando and Charlotte within the last month are glaring blemishes for the players and Wittman. Against the Bobcats on March 18, the coach underutilized Garrett Temple after the backup guard was playing well and making shots down the stretch. Against the Raptors on April 3, Wittman didn't make his first third-quarter substitution until all but the final two points of an 11-point halftime lead had been erased.

It doesn't help that the Wizards have struggled for years at Madison Square Garden; they have lost nine straight in New York since their last win in December 2006. Plus, the Knicks are riding a 12-game winning streak and have their sights set on homecourt advantage in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. New York is 21Ú2 games ahead of Indiana for second place in the Eastern Conference and can clinch the franchise's first Atlantic Division title since 1994 with a victory or a loss by the Brooklyn Nets (44-32).

On Monday, Carmelo Anthony was named Eastern Conference player of the week after leading New York to a 4-0 week with a league-best 41.8 points per game. He's just the second Knicks player after Bernard King to tally 40 or more points in three consecutive outings.

If there is a positive for the Wizards, it's that they beat the Knicks on Feb. 6 without Bradley Beal, who is now out for the remainder of the season. In addition, Washington's last two home victories have come against playoff opponents. They're a measly 6-14 on the second night of back-to-back games in 2012-13, but all of the wins have come at Verizon Center.

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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