The Blazers are right now mired in their worst losing streak of the season. They’ve failed to show up in the first halves of their last two games. They recently lost to the 10-win Cavaliers, and played so poorly against the Milwaukee Bucks that most non-Portland based NBA fans would be hard pressed to answer correctly if asked which team, the Bucks or the Blazers, and recently “parted ways” with their head coach. Things aren’t going super great right now.
But nothing lasts forever right? Portland hasn’t played all that well the last week and change, but all things being equal the Blazers aren’t a “bad” team. Developing teams with a strong core and no bench will go through ups and downs. Five straight losses is a protracted down, which stands to reason that any day now Portland should be getting on a roll for a nice little upswing. What better way to kick-start a winning streak than facing the worst team in the NBA?
Alas this is Portland. Nothing is easy, and nothing is guaranteed. Yes the Washington Wizards come into the Rose Garden on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day owners of the league’s worst record (8-30), but of those eight wins a full 12.5% of them have come against the Blazers (that’s one out of eight if you can’t math it yourself). It’s better now than it was for the first month of the season. From October 30th to November 30th, 100% of the Wizards’ wins had come against the Portland Trail Blazers. If there’s anybody that Washington feels like they could possibly beat, it has to be the Blazers.
What’s more, way back when the Wizards beat the Blazers for their first win of the 2012-13 season, Washington was without John Wall, one of the best young point guards in the league. Wall’s back now. Also, Portland has faced three of the league’s best young point guards during this last five-game streak. In those three games, Steph Curry went for 22, Kyrie Irving scored 31, and Brandon Jennings went for 30. Curry was overshadowed by Damian Lillard, who scored 37 in Portland’s loss in his hometown, but Irving and Jennings both got the better of the Blazers’ likely Rookie of the Year.
If young, quick point guards are Portland’s kryptonite, John Wall, though not a scorer like Kyrie or a streaky shooter like Jennings, will likely give the Blazers fits.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Wizards Starting 5: PG A.J. Price, SG Bradley Beal, SF Martell Webster PF Nene, C Emeka Okafor
It’s hard to really know where to look first when breaking down the top match-ups for Monday’s game. I certainly feel like Portland is the better team, better at basically every position. But a guy like Emeka Okafor is the perfect antidote for J.J. Hickson. Both guys fight in the post, get rebounds, and score on put-backs. Emeka just does it a little better than J.J.
Nene isn’t better than LaMarcus Aldridge or different enough than LA to throw him off his game or negate what he offers. He is, however, a big physical presence, the kind of defender that Aldridge struggles against. Nicolas Batum is a better version of Martell Webster, but Marty can certainly get hot. Portland’s back court of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews is better on aggregate than A.J. Price and Bradley Beal, but Washington Wizard fans are certainly talking about Beal the way Portland fans are talking about Lillard. That has to mean something.
I certainly believe that match-up wise the Blazers should have the edge on Monday, but given the way things have been going for this team, and the way the last meeting between these two teams went, I’m not ready to concede anything.
What to Watch For
- Portland’s start. I don’t always read the paper (online of course, nobody reads actual paper), but I’d bet half my paycheck that at least one major local media outlet has a Blazer story that is pegged to Portland starting slowing and having to dig their way out of holes night after night. Far be it from me to call a clear truth reductive, neither is mutually exclusive. The Blazers have started a number of games very slowly, that’s certainly the truth. Having to come back every night wears a team out, that is also the truth. Whether or not that’s the real problem with Portland right now is what I’m not 100% on. However, if the Blazers don’t come out from the jump and compete, there’s a good chance we’ll be talking at the end of the night about lethargic starts and comebacks that are too short.
- Who gets the back-up PG minutes. In the Wizards’ last game (a loss at the Los Angeles Clippers) John Wall came off the bench. A.J. Price played only 17 minutes though, so he was the starter in name only. I listed Price as Monday’s starter, because that’s my process. If John Wall starts and A.J. Price comes off the bench, whether Portland’s head coach goes with Ronnie Price or Nolan Smith won’t make that big of an impact. However, if one of those two guys (especially if that guy is Nolan Smith) draws John Wall in a first shift, things could get ugly. Remember, it took only two and a half minutes on Saturday night for the Bucks to put the Blazers in a tailspin with Damian Lillard on the bench.
- LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers sent out a nice little packet informing the media on why they think LA should be in the All-Star Game. Blazersedge has a breakdown. I certainly think LaMarcus is an All-Star, whether or not he gets selected remains to be seen of course. There is big potential for LA on Monday night, especially considering how mediocre he was against Milwaukee. I think LaMarcus goes for around 30 on Monday (is that too high of an expectation?).