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Portland Trail Blazers at Washington Wizards Preview

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The Blazers look to regain some magic as they visit the Wizards.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Washington Wizards Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (14-21) at Washington Wizards (10-23)

Friday, January 3 - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out), Mario Hezonja (questionable)
Wizards injuries: John Wall (out), C.J. Miles (out), Moritz Wagner (out), Rui Hachimura (out), Thomas Bryant (out), Davis Bertans (out), Bradley Beal (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Bullets Forever

The Trail Blazers look to rebound after getting off to a rough start to begin their five-game road trip. Carmelo Anthony’s return to Madison Square Garden was the only bright spot in a 117-93 loss on New Year’s Day. The loss was Portland’s fifth in a row, making it their longest losing streak of the season and the longest since December 2017.

They will try to end that streak against a struggling Washington Wizards team. The Wizards are coming off a home loss to the Orlando Magic. It’s probably not fair to characterize this as a disappointing season for Washington since their performance so far has been more or less what was expected. One bright spot has been the early development of rookie Rui Hachimura, but the forward from Gonzaga has been out since Dec. 16 with a groin injury.

What to watch for

  • Damian Lillard’s three-point shooting. Damian Lillard hit 5 of 6 three-point attempts in the first quarter against the Suns. He has made only 1 of his 14 attempts in the seven quarters since (0-6 in the rest of the Suns game; 1-8 against the Knicks). Lillard has shot the deep ball inconsistently during Portland’s losing streak. He shot 0-10 from deep against the Pelicans, but connected on 7 of 13 in Utah. The Blazers need more of the latter if they want to end the losing streak.
  • Bradley Beal’s scoring. Bradley Beal has continued to improve his scoring in his eighth season. The 26-year-old is averaging a career-best 27.8 points per game. With 7.6 free throw attempts per game—up more than two attempts per game from last year’s 5.5 attempts—he’s getting to the line more often than previous years. Slowing down Beal should be Portland’s primary defensive focus, especially considering Washington’s next three leading scorers will miss the game due to injury. If Beal, who is listed questionable, misses the game, the Blazers have no excuse to not get back in the win column.
  • Some Pac-12 connections. Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura isn’t the only Wizard with ties to the Pacific Northwest. Oregon Duck fans will enjoy watching Troy Brown Jr. The second-year player is averaging 9.4 points and 5.4 assists in 24.5 minutes per game. Oregon State fans will enjoy seeing Gary Payton II get an opportunity. The former Beaver (and son of the Seattle Supersonic nine-time All-Star point guard) has appeared in five games (three as a starter) since his season debut on Dec. 23. He’s averaging 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3.2 steals in those appearances. Rounding out the NW connections is Isaiah Thomas. The Wizards signed the former Washington Husky to a one-year contract this offseason. The 8-year veteran is averaging 13.5 points per game while shooting 41.5 percent from three.

What they’re saying

Albert Lee of Bullets Forever looks back on Washington’s year:

The current Wizards season is turning out to be close to what I expected. Sure, I expect some upset wins here and there, including the win we saw last Monday against the Miami Heat. However, we also have to realize that this team is injury-depleted at the top and still growing. The rebuilding process can be unpleasant, but hopefully, the peaks are much better than the valleys.

Cadace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote that Gary Payton II is showing that he belongs in the NBA:

Payton, who started the season in the G League, has emerged as the Wizards’ most active perimeter defender. In fact, no player in the NBA has more steals (13) since he made his season debut with the Wizards on Dec. 23.

He also has shot down the often-cited critique of his game by making 62.5 percent of his three-point attempts. And judging by Saturday night, when he started in place of injured Bradley Beal and hit six shots to go with six steals and six rebounds, the long-armed Payton can adapt to either guard position while capably scoring or doing the dirty work.