With Howard gone, sigh of relief for Wiz


With Howard gone, sigh of relief for Wiz

All of a sudden the middle has opened up for the Wizards in the Southeast Division as Orlando shipped out all-star center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team trade. This is great news for the Wizards who always struggled defending the 7-foot Howard. Instead of facing Howard and Orlando four times a season, they only have to face him twice now that he's with a western conference team.

Howard has owned the Wizards. Last season, he went for 28 points and 20 rebounds in a Magic win over D.C. in January. Howard followed that up in February with 23 points and 18 rebounds in yet another win against the Wizards. In the 2010-11 season, Orlando never lost to Washington, with Howard leading the way averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds a game. In fact, the last time Orlando with Howard playing lost to the Wizards was in February of 2010 when Brendan Haywood started at center for Washington.

With Howard out of the picture the Magic have to figure out who is going to be the new man in the middle because right now they don't have a true center on the roster, only several power forwards like Justin Harper and Gustavo Ayon. Those are names that don't strike fear into anyone and the Wizards are just fine with that, as centers Nene and power forward Emeka Okafor should have their way with the Magic down in the interior.

The Lakers are once again an NBA title contender but at least the Wizards don't have to see Howard as much as they used to. Things are looking up in D.C.

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Trotz sees value for the Caps in their early season road trip

Trotz sees value for the Caps in their early season road trip

After enjoying three of their first five games at home to start the season, the Capitals now must pack their bags for a long road trip that will take them through western Canada.

The upcoming four-game road trip, the team’s second longest of the season, will take the Caps to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg. They will not host another game at Verizon Center until Nov. 3.

Despite facing a long trip away from home and the Caps’ faithful, Barry Trotz is excited by the prospect of the early trip.

“I think it'll be good for us,” he said. “I think last year we got our game going when we went out to Canada last year. Doesn't mean we're going to get it going this year at all, but it started on the road trip.”

RELATED: Trotz: Caps need more 'net presence'

Last season, the Caps hit the road in October for a three-game swing against Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. The Caps won all three of those games by a combined score of 16-8 to improve their record to 6-1-0. That trip was the first true glimpse of the Presidents’ Trophy winning team the Caps would become.

While everyone enjoys playing in front of their fans and sleeping in their own bed, long road trips can be beneficial when it comes early in the season as teams build chemistry among the players.

“I think what it does is, it's just hockey,” Trotz said. “It's guys playing hockey.”

All the distractions of home are gone when players hit the road. Rather than just practicing together, the players end up spending all their time together bonding. The only worry is hockey.

But the benefits of a road trip are limited if the team can’t find success.

“If we come back with a winning record, I'll say it's great and if we don't, I don't think it's very good,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think everybody says that ahead of the trip and then it might change your mind afterwards. Sometimes your record or your success has a lot of impact on what people really think about those trips.”

Unlike last season, this trip will not feature weak Canadian squads.

Edmonton and Vancouver are two of the hottest teams to start the season. Winnipeg, meanwhile, boasts talented rookie Patrick Laine.

If the Caps hope to use this season’s road trip as a springboard to the top of the standings as they did last year, they are going to have to earn it.

But for Trotz, he sees benefits to this trip beyond just the standings.

“On the road, I think it never hurts,” Trotz said. “It never hurts for your group.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz tweaks Caps' top lines in attempt to spark offense

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Morning tip: Wizards will welcome straight-shooting style from coaches

Morning tip: Wizards will welcome straight-shooting style from coaches

A few seasons ago, Trevor Ariza challenged John Wall about his role with the Wizards and what the point guard envisioned about everyone else's. Then it was Marcin Gortat questioning his role with the coaching staff. Last year, Jared Dudley encountered that, too. 

They weren't the only ones to express that under Randy Wittman, who kept his cards close to the vest with his players -- possibly contributing to players-only meetings called by Ariza and Dudley -- but new coach Scott Brooks is the exact opposite. It's among the many differences in the culture and how things are being handled as the Wizards put a 41-41 season behind them.

Wittman was a former player, as is Brooks. But Brooks is more new school than old school and this is yet another reason why his arrival is so welcomed. It's partly why he's called a "player's coach." 

"All of the guys know their role. I made that perfectly clear in our opening night meeting before our first training camp practice," said Brooks, who won't commit to his starting five publicly -- likely John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Gortat --  but maintains his players have known for quite some time. "It's that their role is to play as hard as they possibly can and play for their teammates whether if it's one minute or 48 minutes. You just got to do that and then we can live with the results. That kind of cleans everything up because I've been a player and I've been around players and when things don't go well they always fall back on, 'I don't know my role.' So all the players will know their role."

That means before training camp opened Sept. 27 in Richmond, Va., any doubts that anyone may have had before the first dribble were put to bed. 

[RELATED: Inevitable rise of Bradley Beal?]