The Portland Trail Blazers’ home court struggles continued tonight as the Washington Wizards pasted an embarrassing 106-92 loss on them, courtesy of a career-high 51-point performance from Bradley Beal. The game featured a Jusuf Nurkic injury (video here), Moe Harkless leaving in the second quarter with a quad contusion, and enough broken sets to fill up the electronics section of every Goodwill from Seattle to Medford. The Blazers couldn’t get out of their own way, didn’t get in the Wizards’ way much either, and ended up leaving the court to a chorus of home-crowd boos. Three straight home losses will do that to you.
The first half of this game was dominated by Portland turnovers. They weren’t garden-variety, moving screen infractions either. These were full-on, live-ball miscues upon which the Wizards feasted. By halftime, Washington had accumulated a full dozen steals. Their offense wasn’t remarkable—they’d score only 51 in the half—but the effect on Portland’s scoring was dramatic. The Blazers limped to 22 points in the first period. They managed only 15 in the second, hitting four field goals total. Nurkic generated semi-reliable offense early, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough. Portland found themselves down 14 at the break.
Obligatory Reminder: All of this happened without Washington All-Star John Wall taking the floor.
Obligatory Reminder #2: The Blazers completed a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback under similar circumstances in Washington a week and a half ago.
The Wizards would allow nothing of the sort tonight, however. Damian Lillard exploded in the second half, carrying the offense on his shoulders, but Beal trumped him at every turn. Portland stuck to a defensive strategy of switching screens and got burned. Switches are supposed to keep defenders near their men at all times, but the Wizards still found daylight. When they missed, they got offensive rebounds. Lillard’s 30-point performance didn’t end up making a dent. A 16-4 Washington run during the middle of the fourth put the game away, ensuring the eventual margin would exceed double-digits.
First the important stuff: The Blazers report that X-rays on Nurkic’s ankle were negative and Harkless is expected to play in Portland’s next contest. Permanent repercussions from this outing seem slight, at this point.
Chronic issues remain, however. The Blazers spent half the night not getting within a four-foot radius of Washington scorers. They spent the other half getting up tight but proving ineffective at forcing bad shots or rebounding same. Beal’s outburst will conceal the fact that most Wizards misses were their own responsibility. The same thing happened in the Big Comeback win. Portland benefited big time as the Wizards choked up on multiple open shots down the stretch. That’s not a bankable strategy, though, as they were reminded tonight. Washington hit 47.2% of their shots from the field, 44% of their nearly-undefended three-point attempts.
Portland turnovers (or Wizards steals) were a huge factor in that first half. The Blazers looked predictable. CJ McCollum had another off shooting performance, leaving Lillard and Nurkic as the only real offensive targets. Washington was all over passes to or from either. When anybody else caught the ball, the Wizards swarmed them, forcing awkward dribbles or weak passes over closing defenders. From Portland’s perspective, it was nothing short of a nightmare.
Lillard’s 10-23, 30-point performance was the brightest spot for the Blazers. He looked inspired for brief bursts in the second half. For those who would deride the outing as “Hero Ball”, consider:
A. The Blazers needed a hero in the worst way. And...
B. Outside of Al-Farouq Aminu hitting outlet threes, literally nobody else could, or did, step up. Especially after Nurkic went down, it was a Lillard shot or nothing. This wasn’t Lillard taking away possessions from teammates. His team abandoned him into 30 points.
Unfortunately Beal’s performance overshadowed Lillard’s considerably. For perspective, the Washington shooting guard scored more than McCollum, Nurkic, Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, Evan Turner, Pat Connaughton, and the whole rest of Portland’s bench combined. He literally outscored 10 Trail Blazers, 51-45. Lillard and Aminu—Portland’s second-leading scorer with 17—did not manage 51 between them.
Washington outscored the Blazers on the break 16-0, an unsurprising development given the proclivities of each team and Portland’s turnover rate. The Wizards earned 11 offensive rebounds to only 7 for the Blazers. Portland finished with 19 turnovers against only 18 assists.
Credit to Aminu for hitting 5-8 three-pointers and looking like one of the few Blazers engaged on the defensive end.
Nowhere to go, but... right?
Bullets Forever got their revenge for the prior crushing loss.
The Blazers will get to nurse their wounds for a couple days, then try to turn around the 0-3 homestand against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night at 7:00, Pacific.
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