The Blazers head to the nation's capital tonight to take on the Washington Wizards, a 23-23 team that will be looking to climb above .500 for the first time all season.
The Wizards -- currently sitting in the fifth slot in the Eastern Conference standings -- have had six previous opportunities to climb over the hump and claim a winning record but have come up short every time. Since a mid-January win in Chicago put their record at 19-19, the Wizards have followed every win with a loss, and vice-versa. Most recently, Washington dispatched the Thunder at home Friday night.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman's offense features balanced scoring from several directions, his top-four rotational players shooting between 13.6 and 15.4 field-goals each their last five games. Portland's top-four shooters-by-volume in that same span range from center Robin Lopez and his 9.8 field-goals attempted a night to the 21.8 by forward LaMarcus Aldridge, to illustrate how evenly distributed the bulk of the scoring is in Wittman's system.
Some games, Wizards point guard John Wall will play the top-dog role, while other nights small forward Trevor Ariza, guard Bradley Beal or big man Nene lead the charge.
Beal attacks typically with his jump-shot, occasionally mixing it up in the lane but attempting about three-quarters of his shots from 10-feet out or further. On the year he's shot about 41 percent both from the field and behind the three-point line, but his long-range shot has slipped his last five games to 28.6 percent, though he's remained consistent from within the perimeter -- aside from a 3-12 performance against Oklahoma City a few nights ago.
In Wall's previous three seasons, he seemed aware that his three-point shot wasn't reliable and didn't attempt many as a result. This year, the career 27.8 percent three-point shooter has added a bit of outside shooting to his arsenal, bumping his attempts up and boosting his percentage to 32.1. Over his last several games, Wall has been even more of a deep threat at 35.3 percent from outside.
Even with the improved long-range shooting this season, Wall still attempts most of his shots closer to the basket. His jump-shot isn't spectacular, but it's been reliable. Wall still takes it to the basket often, where he's a pretty significant scoring threat. Because of his ball-handling and penetration, Wall is also able to create for his teammates, pulling in almost double-digit assists every night. In fact, 100 percent of the three-pointers made by Washington players other than Wall the last five games have been assisted, showing excellent ball-movement on the perimeter.
Ariza benefits from the good looks from downtown the most, attempting almost seven threes a night recently and hitting 38.2 percent of them. Half of Ariza's shots are from deep, but he's also able to score inside. His mid-range jumper lags a bit behind but he's deadly from the corners, hitting almost half of his right-side corner threes.
Nene has some decent range for a frontcourt player, boasting Aldridge-like percentages on his 10 to 15-foot jumper, though he attempts far fewer. Nene can create for himself down-low as a solid post player, as well. Center Marcin Gortat needs to be set up more but is a more efficient scorer, especially close to the basket.
Off the bench for the Wizards is forward Martell Webster, a familiar face for many Blazers fans. Webster, who spent his first five seasons in Portland, is a 40.5 percent marksmen from downtown this season, though the last few weeks have been rough for him at 31.8 percent. Still, Webster attempts over five three-pointers a night and he'll certainly let them fly tonight against a Blazers' perimeter defense that has been inconsistent lately.
Forward Trevor Booker, center Kevin Seraphin and guard Garrett Temple fill out Wittman's nine-man playing rotation. Not one is a huge impact player offensively due to inconsistent outputs game-to-game, but they're all capable of contributing if given the touches. Rookie forward Otto Porter Jr. plays very occasionally -- 7.6 minutes a game in his last five with two DNP-CDs, to be exact -- but still inspires hilarious, 1700-word articles.
Portland recently prevented its first three-game skid of the season, beating the Raptors at home Friday night. Point guard Damian Lillard, guard Wesley Matthews and forward Nicolas Batum all were able to contribute with some timely scoring, aided by 27 points from Aldridge, 11 of them coming at the free-throw line.
Though the solid scoring outputs from Lillard and Batum buoyed the Blazers on a night when Aldridge shot 8-22 from the field, they went a combined 2-8 from behind the three-point line, effectively continuing a several-game stretch in which both have struggled from downtown. Matthews hit five of his seven three-pointers Friday night, putting him more in line with his 42-percent shooting from outside this year and solidifying the buzz between local and national media alike that he deserves a spot in the Three-Point Contest over All-Star weekend.
Aldridge has cooled off a bit the last few games, hitting five percentage points below his average on field-goals. He's been padding his scoring on off-nights with his ability to get to the line, though, attempting 9.4 free-throws a game in his last five. Getting easy points at the line would be a good idea for the entire Blazers squad tonight, the best free-throw shooting team in the league at 82 percent, attempting over 25 foul-shots a game in their last 10. The Wizards have given up roughly the same amount in that same timespan. Washington draws far fewer fouls and is not good at converting them, so if another foul-shooting contest breaks out, Portland would be favored.
Backup guard Mo Williams has continued his struggles from the field but is still a reliable outside shooter off the bench for Blazers coach Terry Stotts. Rookie guard C.J. McCollum hasn't been able to reignite the spark from his first few games this season when he was creating shots for himself and hitting his open threes, and is now sitting at about 31 percent from the field and making only 25 percent of his outside shots his last several games. Big men Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson don't often contribute on the offensive side of the ball, but Freeland shoots pretty efficiently with his limited touches.
The Wizards have three players averaging two steals or more the last five games in Wall, Beal and Ariza, and as a team they've forced over 16 turnovers a game this season. The Blazers have had lapses recently where they've made some careless turnovers due to bad passing -- the recent loss to the Warriors comes to mind -- and Washington will take advantage of them as a long, aggressive team capable of scoring on the run, especially after turnovers.
Portland's defense hasn't been consistent lately, allowing 46.7 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from behind the three-point line the last 10 games, though the Raptors shot 6-20 from outside Friday night against the Blazers. The Wizards have a great penetrator and passer in Wall and several threats to score on the catch-and-shoot from downtown, so Portland will likely have to limit the amount that perimeter defenders sag in order to better contest threes.
Washington's best individual rebounders are Gortat, Booker and Seraphin, but none is as good as Aldridge on the boards and percentage-wise, Robinson and Freeland are also both better than the Wizards' best trio of rebounders. Still, both teams rebound at nearly identical rates as a whole and like Washington's offense, the contributions on the glass are pretty evenly spread among the rotation.
The Blazers kick off a four-game road trip tonight, with games against the Knicks, Pacers and Timberwolves later this week. A win in Washington would be a good start, and the Wizards are a predictable .500 at home this year, consistent with their up-and-down nature. If Portland can keep the ball moving tonight, prevent turnovers and find open looks while continuing the trend of drawing fouls, a win should be attainable. Even so, Washington can attack from several angles and if they are allowed easy ball-movement, they can take advantage of a defense, too.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter