Game 29 Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW and NBATV

News Flash: The Washington Wizards are having a difficult time this year. Also Cheech and Chong had a little bit of an issue with herbs in the 70's, generic cereal really isn't as good as name-brand, and that little Apple company just might make it because they're pretty good with portable devices.

Who'd have thunk?

The bad news for the Portland Trail Blazers is their continuing fondness for playing down to the level of their competition. The good news for Portland is that they usually win those games anyway. They're bulletproof in this kind of game at home. And frankly, playing down to Washington's level would take some truly Herculean sucking.

The Wizard's 6 wins in 28 tries have been padded by the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors. You could have a fun time combining those three teams and seeing if you could make even one playoff-level roster. Odds are you'd struggle. But those teams account for 5 of Washington's 6 wins. They beat Oklahoma city 105-102 back on the 18th of January, their lone quality victory of the season. Another way to put it: they're 1-16 (6% winning percentage) against teams with more than 9 wins on the season (a.k.a. "Teams that don't stink").

On offense the Wizards try to play fast and they're really bad at it. Don't let their impressive standings in points in the paint (6th in the league) and fast-break points (2nd) fool you. That's like giving me 7 bets in an 8-horse race and then being impressed that I got one of them right. Only the wretched Bobcats keep the Wizards from being the least efficient offense in the league. They spray shots everywhere. If they're not on the break they're usually in trouble.

The Wizards suffer similarly on defense. They're highlight reel defenders, gambling for blocks and steals. Most of the time, of course, they come up empty. Then the beating ensues. They allow fast break points, points in the paint, high shooting percentages from everywhere, and plenty of fouls. Plus their defensive rebounding is atrocious...befitting their fast break style. The Blazers will need to make a choice between going for offensive rebounds (running up extra points) or getting back (preventing the Wizards from accessing their only reliable scoring opportunities). Either way they're likely to be successful.

If you're thinking this playing style screams "guard-oriented" you're correct. Hot rod scorer Nick Young and former overall-#1 pick John Wall are the go-to-guys on this team. Wall produces 16 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds per game but he can't hit a three-pointer and only shoots a modest 41% clip from the field. His offense depends on plenty of foul shots. Young is at 17 per game, also at 41% from the field but at least he can hit a three at 36%. About 1/3 of his shots come from distance. Neither one can defend...and that's an understatement. They're bad.

The upside of that leaky guard defense is that it leaves plenty of blocked shots for center JaVale McGee. He's swatting almost three shots per game in a display reminiscent of the early days of Theo Ratliff and Joel Przybilla in Portland. (Note that they also played behind poorly defending guards.) McGee adds 3 offensive rebounds, 9 total rebounds, and some solid--if limited--scoring to the mix. He's probably the Wizards' most NBA-ready player. His big issue remains consistency. Some nights he just doesn't seem in the game.

The rest of the roster is an asterisk in waiting. Trevor Booker is a slightly short power forward who scores well and rebounds decently. Rashard Lewis is the most expensive paperweight in the league. Andre Blatche is out with a calf injury. Jordan Crawford is a short shooting guard who can't shoot. Jan Vesely sounds like a line of living room furniture, Shelvin Mack like a Subaru dealership. We'll just stop now.

Here are the main points:

1. If the Blazers lose this game they might as well just hide under the bleachers afterwards. Not only are they playing three games in the next three nights, the opponent list after tomorrow reads: Clippers, Hawks, Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Heat. Portland needs this win to counter any losses that might result from that murderer's row of opponents. If you can't beat the Wizards at home what are you going to do against division leaders and playoff locks?

2. The Blazers need to play a good game early, devoting enough energy to build a lead and get the bench in for major minutes. I shudder to think what's going to happen in Thursday's Clippers contest if the top of Portland's rotation logs big minutes messing around with the Wizards and Warriors. (Original NES FTW there, by the way.)

Let's hope this game goes right and the Blazers make it easy for once.

Bullets Forever will give you the Washington perspective.

Enter the Jersey Contest form for tonight!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail,com)

P.S. If you have a sweetie, don't forget what today is. Don't get grounded from watching the game because you weren't paying attention to detail.

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