USA TODAY Sports
With a 5-game losing streak slung around their necks the Portland Trail Blazers host the NBA's worst team, the Washington Wizards. Washington has won 4 of 6, headed in the opposite direction from Portland. Will this be an easy win or another crushing loss?
News Flash: The Washington Wizards are on a torrid winning jag.
OK, maybe winning 4 out of 6 doesn't count as torrential by most standards, but when you've only won 4 games all season before that streak, it's a deluge. Seriously, the Wizards were 4-28 two weeks ago. Tonight they'll bring a comparatively-shiny 8-30 record to the Rose Garden as they face the Trail Blazers in a 7:00 p.m. Pacific game televised on CSNNW.
What's going on with the Wizards? Well, on a given night one of three criteria holds true:
1. They score a ton of points.
2. They play the Atlanta Hawks, who couldn't score to save their lives.
3. They lose.
Since the home uniforms say "Portland" and not "Atlanta" tonight, it holds that if the Blazers can keep the Wizards from going crazy on the offensive end, this should be a "W".
Washington's offensive attack boils down to a couple of hot players and a scattering of mildly annoying ones. Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal has been on a tear this month. He's had exactly two nights shooting below .500 from the three-point arc in 2013. Five of his outings this month have produced 20 points or more. Returning point guard John Wall has not shot as well as Beal but he's easing back into the swing of things averaging double digits from the bench, including 24 in Washington's last outing.
After that you mostly play Whac-a-Mole with the rest of Washington's scorers. Jordan Crawford (returning from injury himself), Nene, Kevin Seraphin, Martell Webster...none of these guys shoot that well but any of them can post points on a given night.
The bigger issue for the Blazers may come on defense and particularly under the glass. In addition to Nene the Wizards sport Emeka Okafor in the middle. Seraphin is not a rebounder but he's bulky at 6'9" and 275 lbs. If the Wizards decide to throw around their bulk the Blazers may be hard-pressed to match.
Portland's big talent advantage will come at the forward spots, as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum figure to outclass their counterparts. Then again, after the Milwaukee game who knows which version of Aldridge and Batum will show up? Nor are we sure about either set of guards, Portland's or Washington's. That lends plenty of variance to this game. Unfortunately variance is the friend of the less-accomplished team, which in this case is the Wizards.
If the Blazers want to control that variance and Washington's offense both, they will have to keep them from running. Portland was flat-out embarrassed by Milwaukee in their last game, a victim of numerous steal-fed break-aways. The Wizards aren't nearly so adept at thievery but they depend just as much on the easy buckets the fast-break provides. Those and the very occasional offensive rebound putback are the only easy points they generate. After that it's mid- and long-range jumpers. Even with Beal factored in, they're horrid at both.
The Wizards are also bad at holding onto the ball, a weakness upon which the Blazers should look to capitalize.
The opening two quarters have become a huge factor for Portland lately. The Wizards are 2-17 on the road. If Portland jumps on them early there's no reason for them to believe they can win here. Give them confidence, though--a few easy buckets on the break, the jumpers start falling, 50-50 balls go their way--and all of a sudden you have their streaky shooting to contend with. At that point anything can happen. And "anything" for Portland has usually turned out to be digging out of a 20-point hole only to fall short down the stretch.
As we mentioned in the recap of the Milwaukee game, this is the last "easy" opponent the Blazers will see for a month and a half. No joke. Not that the Blazers conform to expectations anyway, but losing this game would be a poor start to what's sure to be the roughest stretch of the season.
Don't let them score 110.
Don't play offense like the Hawks.
Bullets Forever will talk about the Wizards.
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