Portland Trail Blazers (33-31) vs. Washington Wizards (30-32)
Tuesday, March 8
The Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Washington injury report: Bradley Beal (Out - Hip), Gary Neal (Out - Thigh)
SBN Affiliate: BulletsForever
Sometimes after a long trip, there is nothing like coming home. The Blazers finally get back from their longest road trip of the year, to face the Washington Wizards Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
Coming into their six-game road trip, the Blazers had won 11 of 13 games and were playing their best basketball of the season. They managed to pick up wins in the first three games out East against the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. However, fatigue played its role as the Blazers entered their fourth game in five nights and fell to the Boston Celtics. They then followed that loss with two more losses, consecutively, to the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.
The Blazers take on a Wizards team coming off a devastating 100-99 loss at home to the Indiana Pacers. The game came down to two Paul George free throws with 3 seconds left to win it for Indiana. A win for Washington could have brought them back to .500 and within a half game of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the loss, the Wizards sit at No. 10.
Back on Feb. 18, the date of the NBA trade deadline, the Wizards sat at 23-28 and were a long shot to make the playoffs. Instead of waiting out the year to make their inevitable Kevin Durant free agency pitch, the Wizards decided to be proactive and make a run at this year's playoffs. In doing so, they sacrificed future cap space and a protected first round pick to bring in disgruntled power forward Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns.
There were many questions surrounding Morris as a person and teammate. From legal troubles, to trade demands, to altercations with players, and even throwing his towel at his coach, Morris was as versatile negatively off the court as he was positively on the court. But the Wizards ultimately decided that his talent made him worth the risk. At 6-foot-10, Morris is not only a good low post player on the block, but a very capable floor spacer as well. With an aggressive mindset and decent mobility, Morris can play power forward or even center in a smaller lineup. Although Morris is still trying to find his role with the Wizards team, only averaging 9.1 points on 42 percent shooting, the Wizards won six of their first eight games after the trade before dropping their last two games.
The Washington Wizards' offense relies heavily on All-Star point guard John Wall. This season he is nearly averaging a double-double at 20 points and 9.8 assists per game to go along with 2 steals. With Wall, the name of the game is speed. He is arguably the fastest player in the NBA and he uses his speed well. Whether it's either a made or missed shot, Wall will look for an opportunity to push the ball and get to the rim. He has an explosive first step, unmatched rim-to-rim speed and good vision on the move as well.
Keys to a Blazers victory
Cut the Head off the Snake: The Blazers need to be able to contain John Wall. If he is allowed to run wild, he can win games by both getting to the basket, as well as finding teammates and getting them open shots. Of course, slowing down someone with as much speed and athleticism as Wall, is much easier said than done. Wall does, however, have some weaknesses that can be exploited.
The use of data and analytics by NBA teams to get a more advanced look at what is happening on the court is becoming more common in the NBA. But there are still a few people and coaches within the NBA who are not quite on board with the analytics movement. Wizards coach Randy Wittman is one of them. Midrange jump shots, especially unassisted, are often regarded by the analytical data as the least efficient shot in basketball. With coach Wittman at his back, Wall shoots more long 2-point shots than anyone in the NBA, by a considerable margin. Wall makes those long 2-pointers less than 36 percent of the time, with only 7 percent of those shots being assisted. Although Wall has improved his 3-point shooting considerably since early in his career, he is still a below average 3-point shooter.
So, what does this all mean? Any guards defending Wall or any big man helping out on a screen-and-roll need to give Wall space. He's too quick to pressure, so the Blazers can live with Wall shooting 36 percent shots all night. But they cannot let him get speed and get to the rim. Giving Wall space will also allow defenders one pass away to stay out on shooters as well and not have to help. This all sounds good and easy in theory but executing it is a different story. Wall is a special athlete.
Go Gem 'Em Big Men: The Blazers have a huge advantage on the inside. The Wizards have the "Polish Hammer," Marcin Gortat, manning the middle. He's big, he's strong, he's the best Polish player ever, and he's actually pretty agile for his size. Gortat is averaging over 10 rebounds per game, twice grabbing 17 or more in the last 4 games. He is a good solid big man, but other than him, the Wizards are paper thin on true bigs. Washington is second to last in both total rebounds and offensive rebounds per game. They just do not have any other legitimate big men to compete on the boards with Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and the other Blazer bigs. Nene is a big body but not the rebounder he once was. Morris is a decent rebounder but not great for his size, and Otto Porter and Jared Dudley, who see some time at the power forward position, are more small forwards. Wittman, throughout his career, has not liked to run small lineups, but he has had to more this season than in the past.
The 6-foot-4 John Wall is second on the team in blocks with 0.76 per game. If Gortat and his 1.45 blocks per game are not on the floor, there is almost no rim protection. Portland needs to attack the rim all night long. Lillard and CJ McCollum are great at dicing through defenses and finishing at the rim. All the Blazers need to be in attack mode, getting into the paint with the pass and the dribble, but especially those two.
Light 'em Up: Over the last 10 games, the Blazers are first in the NBA in 3-point percentage at over 41%. Washington on the other hand is No. 28 in the NBA over the same time frame at 32 percent. If this turns into a shootout, look for the Blazers to have the advantage. The Wizards second leading scorer and best 3-point shooter, Bradley Beal, fell down hard against the Pacers, spraining his Pelvis and will sit this game out. With him out, the 3-point odds tip even further in the Blazers' favor.
A three-game losing streak is never a good thing, but considering the strength of those opponents and the circumstances, we can expect a much better effort at home tonight. Despite what our optimism told us during that recent, successful 16-game stretch, the Blazers probably were not going to continue that .875 winning percentage for the rest of the season. At the same time, the last three games are not an accurate representation of who the Blazers are either -- overreacting to a loss is as bad as overreacting to a win.