Portland Trail Blazers (18-25) vs Washington Wizards (19-20)
Monday, January 18
The Verizon Center | 11 a.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland Injury Report: None | Washington Injury Report: Alan Anderson (Questionable, Ankle), Drew Gooden (Questionable, Calf), Kris Humphries (Questionable, Knee), Otto Porter (Questionable, Hip)
SBN Affiliate: Bullets Forever | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
After one of their more embarrassing losses in recent memory, the Portland Trail Blazers are back in action in a Martin Luther King Day matinee game against the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards, fresh off of a 119-117 loss to the Boston Celtics to start a five-game homestand, are trying to recover from a slew of minor injuries and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
In the offseason, Wizards coach Randy Whitman made the commitment to play an uptempo floor stretching game. So far, he has held to his word; the Wizards rank No. 5 in the NBA in pace, No. 9 in 3-point percentage at 37 percent, and are dead last in rebounding - all signs of a running small-ball team.
Everything with the Wizards starts with superstar point guard John Wall. One of the quickest first step guards in the league, Wall has consistently improved his jumper while working to become more of a facilitator, averaging 20 points and nearly 10 assists per night. Wall loves the right elbow, and can get to nearly any spot on the floor with ease. More quietly, Wall has developed into one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, smothering opponents and blocking shots at a high rate.
Wall's backcourt running mate, Bradley Beal, is expected to play after sitting out Saturday's contest to rest. Beal is recovering from a recurring stress injury to his lower right leg, and has actually been coming off of the bench since returning. When healthy, Beal is an elite long range shooter, averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line. Aside from concerns about his right leg, Beal's biggest challenge may be his love affair with the long two-pointer. For his career, Beal has taken 31 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, which is the least efficient shot in basketball. Defenses have actually resorted to giving him the pull up midrange shot off of the pick-and-roll, as Beal seldom takes it to the rim. According to ESPN, only Michael Carter-Williams shot worse on pick-and-roll finishes last season than Beal (34.9 percent), on a minimum of 250 attempts.
Small forward Otto Porter has missed the last two games and is questionable with a strained hip, but he is finally starting to live up to being the third overall pick in 2013, averaging 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Porter excels from the corners and is quite the athletic small forward.
Should Porter not be able to go, look for Kelly Oubre Jr. to get the start at small forward. Oubre, a raw 20-year-old out of Kansas, is expected to develop into a solid 3 and D contributor but is quite a ways away from contributing.
The Wizards have an interesting combination of players at power forward, with Jared Dudley and a now healthy Nene Hilario platooning together. Dudley is the prototypical stretch four, too slow to guard small forwards and too small to guard power forwards. Dudley makes up for his physical shortcomings by hitting from the 3-point line at a 46 percent clip on more than three attempts per contest. Nene continues to be a physical low post/midrange presence, though he is past his prime at this point in his career.
Washington center Marcin Gortat has quietly turned himself into one of the NBA's more productive big men. While he seldom puts up huge numbers, Gortat is a solid post scorer who is able to drive to the rim at an elite level. Though Gortat has a decent baseline jumper, he knows that his bread is buttered in the paint. Gortat is a fundamentally sound rebounder and defender who can influence his opponents' shots without chasing blocks.
Washington has several solid bench contributors. Once known solely for his rebounding (and his marriage), Khris Humphries has transformed himself into a stretch four, shooting nearly 35 percent from distance on nearly three attempts per game. Backup point guard Ramon Sessions, seemingly always having just been traded, has had a nice season backing up Wall. Sessions has a poor jump shot, but is good at getting to the rim and to the free throw line.
Gary Neal and Garrett Temple split time on the wings. Both players love the 3-point shot, though only Neal is currently seeing much success, hitting at a nearly 42 percent clip on the season.
After coming out absolutely flat and getting blown out by the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the Blazers will need to play with energy if they want to finish their brief three game East Coast swing with a winning record.
Damian Lillard vs. John Wall: While Lillard is generally able to score from all over the floor, Wall has developed into one of the better defenders in the league. When Lillard shoots below 38 percent, Portland is 0-12, and when he shoots above that mark, Portland is 14-10. Lillard will need to be active off the ball and in pick-and-roll situations to make life difficult on Wall.
Mason Plumlee vs. Marcin Gortat: Gortat is a typical old school center who camps out in the lane and gobbles up rebounds. Plumlee tends to be much more active and has an opportunity to make things difficult for Gortat by taking right at him in an effort to get him in foul trouble.
Keys to the Game
Move on from Philadelphia: The Blazers got their hats handed to them by the worst team in the league. Fine. Move on. There can't be any post loss hangover from what is surely an embarrassing defeat. The best thing for Portland to do is to put that game out of mind and just move on. Team psyches can be delicate things, and a loss like the one the Blazers had against the 76ers is the type that can stick with a team for a while.
Force Beal off the 3-point line: As mentioned early, Beal is an elite shooter who is just as likely to take a 20 foot 2-point jumper as a 3-pointer. Portland needs to be effective at closing out in order to move Beal off the line and entice him to take the one-dribble pull up midrange jumper.
Bench scoring: One positive of late is that Portland's bench has been performing well on the offensive end. While the Blazers need their usual offensive weapons to do well, positive contributions from bench players other than Allen Crabbe will be huge. Meyers Leonard, Gerald Henderson, or Moe Harkless could all turn the tide with some timely buckets.
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