The Portland Trail Blazers finally ran into a team as beat up as they are on Friday night in the form of the Washington Wizards. Lacking Bradley Beal and any other players whose names you would recognize, the Wizards put up a plucky fight. It wasn’t nearly good enough against Portland’s talented, if under-performing, starting lineup. Portland won the game 122-103 shooting 51.1% from the field.
The game started out on a weird note, as Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas got ejected 90 seconds after tip-off for shoving a referee on a sideline trap play. This robbed the already-depleted Wizards of their scoring power. The Blazers seemed a little more committed to help defense early in the game, but not much better at closing out. Unless the Wizards drove right into Hassan Whiteside, they found their shots largely unopposed. Portland seemed committed to ending their five-game losing streak as long as they could do it casually. Washington did turn the ball over, boosting Portland into easier scoring opportunities. Meanwhile the Wizards scored easily from the arc, territory the Blazers seemed disinterested in covering. Despite Portland obviously having more scorers on the floor, Washington still led 31-27 after the first. Without Bradley Beal and Isaiah Thomas. Yeah.
The second period reminded me of the Sea Monkeys ad in old comic books. The banner said, “NBA Basketball”, but what actually showed up was...something less. Terrible offense dominated the opening minutes as depleted benches battled each other. If the D wasn’t also bad, nobody would have scored. Fortunately both defenses broke down more often than a used Chevy Citation, so the scoring continued. The Blazers closed the quarter on a 14-5 run and led 66-58 at the half.
The Blazers finally tightened up the defense in the third quarter, which basically meant taking two steps towards closing out the arc instead of standing there watching Washington shoot threes. Whiteside intimidated the Wizards inside; he was a terror in the period. As soon as Washington’s perimeter shots got contested, their offense withered. The Blazers built a strong double-digit lead, which they maintained through the end of the period. Portland led 91-78 heading into the fourth.
The bench unit reverted to their no-defense-playing ways as the fourth quarter commenced. Washington cut it to eight, but Portland fought back with buckets. Jordan McRae caught on fire, capping off a 30+ point night, but Damian Lillard struck multiple times in return. Portland’s scorers kept the margin wide and stress low as the Blazers waltzed to their new, one-game winning streak.
The Blazers attempted 88 field goals in this game. 68 of those came from starters. Even in a game threatening to blow out at any moment, Portland still couldn’t trust their bench.
Speaking of bench...Mario Hezonja finally saw the court again after a long layoff. He shot 4-7 from the field for 10 points. To say he looked good would be an overstatement, but he outscored the rest of Portland’s bench 10-9. That’s something.
The reserves went 0-8 from the arc, punctuating another rotten three-point shooting game for Portland. 6-25, 24% is ugly.
Portland did outscore Washington 62-42 in the paint and generally owned the key thanks to Whiteside. He intimidated with 5 blocks, adding 23 points and 21 rebounds. Offensive rebounds and second-chance points went Washington’s way, but otherwise the Blazers ruled inside. That helped their overall field goal percentage plenty.
If this game ever was in doubt, Lillard poured water on the fire and squelched it. He scored 35 on 10-20 shooting, 13-14 from the free throw line. He wasn’t content to bomb away from outside. He was going to manufacture as many points as the Blazers needed to win. This wasn’t high-profile Dame Time, more like blue-collar clocking in.
Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony looked loose and in the mood to have fun on his way to 16 points on 7-9 shooting. One of those two misses was a rim-checked dunk that would have brought the house down.
The heretofore-placid road trip takes a treacherous turn on Sunday as the Blazers travel to Miami to face the Heat with a 3:00, Pacific tip-off.