The Portland Trail Blazers have withstood recent adversity as they carry a two-game winning streak into their road matchup tonight against the Washington Wizards.
Portland first defeated an Atlanta Hawks team bereft of star point guard Trae Young, weathering a downhill attack in crunch time to secure a 129-125 victory. They followed this up with a statement win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the midst of infirmities, performing on both ends in clutch time.
The Wizards are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the longest active winning streak in the NBA at six games. In that span, they are shooting 40 percent from three-point range and committing only 11.2 turnovers. Meanwhile they are holding opponents to a horrid 29 percent from distance.
Bradley Beal has taken a backseat scoring wise this season, which has led to the fruitful ascension of Kyle Kuzma’s game. His 22.0 points per game are his lowest average since the 2015-16 season, while Kuzma’s 21.8 PPG is a career-high.
The Wizards present size mismatches, potent individual scoring and quality care of their possessions. Here’s what Portland will have to do to pull in a third consecutive victory — something that hasn’t been done since mid December.
Blazers vs. Wizards — Friday, February 3, 2023 — 4:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBC Sports Washington (NBCSWA), NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Jerami Grant (game-time decision), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Greg Brown III (out), Ibou Badji (out)
Wizards Injuries: Anthony Gill (out)
SBN Affiliate: Bullets Forever
Things to Watch For:
- Value Possessions: There are three ways to earn extra possessions or maximize the ones at your disposal — force turnovers, grab offensive rebounds and get in the bonus. The Wizards are a disciplined team in that they commit 19.5 personal fouls per game, meaning they don’t fall into the bonus very often. That’s good for No. 8 in the league. With their tall front line, they are No. 5 in defensive rebounds at 34.9 boards per game. Lastly, they cough up 13.3 turnovers a contest, good for No. 11 in the association. Moral of the story? Generating extra possessions may be hard. On top of this, Nurkic will be sidelined, leaving the Blazers undersized against the 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, 6-foot-10 Daniel Gafford who has started his last 17 games played, and 6-foot-9 Kyle Kuzma. Playing fast is ideal to throw off the Wizards’ half court defense and get up shots at the rim without two towers blocking off the paint, especially against a Drew Eubanks and Trendon Watford who cannot space the floor.
- Go to the Zone: Man defense has been working for Rip City of late. It’s helped them become winners of four of their last five games. It surely contributed to stopping the Grizzlies down the stretch. But the Wizards have so many potent offensive weapons — three in particular (Beal, Kuzma, Porzingis) that can score 25 on any given night — with imposing size that it will take a village to slow them down. A zone will give enough support to Eubanks should Porzingis opt to post up down low. He’s talented offensively but there’s a proven remedy on neutralizing him when executed to a tee. It will allow the help defense to be everywhere and recover on the weak side. It will entice the Wizards — who shoot 35.2 percent from three-point range (11th worst in the league) — to potentially shoot themselves out of the game. It will even entice Gafford to cough the ball up when he seals off his defender around the restricted area for easy deuces off of the dump-off.
- Let Nassir Little Shine: Little is due for a breakout game. He’s only had seven double-figure games this season, yet when you watch Blazers basketball game-in and game-out, he always seems to make an impact off the bench. In the event that Grant does not suit up tonight, Little will be the next man up to start in his stead. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups’ priorities surely include finding a way to get Little easier looks. He brings the intensity and consistent three-point shooting already. But if the Wizards play a great defense on Lillard in the high screen-and-roll, they’re going to need all the offensive help they can get elsewhere, and Little must be ready to succor his teammates with a dualistic inside and outside attack.
What Others are Saying:
- Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian beautifully accentuated the resurgence of the Wizards over the last 19 games, juxtaposing their earlier struggles with a revamped two-way onslaught that has led to wins:
“At one point this season, the Wizards lost 13 out of 14 games to sit at 11-20. They are 13-6 since. During their current six-game winning streak, the Wizards scored 121.5 points per game while allowing 110.2. They’ve shot 48.1% from the field and 40% on threes. Opponents have shot just 29% on threes,” Fentress said.
“The Wizards have three players averaging 20 points or more, guard Bradley Beal (22), center Kristaps Porzingis (22) and forward Kyle Kuzma (21.8).”
2. Piggybacking off of the successes of the Wizards of late, NBA.com wowed NBA fans with a tremendous pair of factoids:
“The Washington Wizards ended a 22-game losing streak to the Spurs in San Antonio with a 127-106 victory Monday night.
Deni Avdija had a career-high 25 points, Bradley Beal had 21 points, and Kristaps Porzingis had 17 points and nine rebounds after a fast start for the Wizards, who had last won here on Dec. 11, 1999.
Washington’s starting lineup that night featured Mitch Richmond, Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland, Isaac Austin and Michael Smith. The then-reigning champion Spurs boasted third-year big man Tim Duncan and had just begun the first of a three-year wait for second-round pick Manu Ginobili.
Twelve total players in Monday’s game, seven for the Spurs and five for the Wizards, were not yet born the last time Washington triumphed in San Antonio.
Washington has won six straight for its longest winning streak since a six-game run in 2015.”