The Portland Trail Blazers (34-13) open a four-game road trip in the nation’s capital tonight as they take on the Washington Wizards (23-23). This will be the first of two regular season meetings between the Trail Blazers and Wizards. The Trail Blazers were able to avoid their first three game losing streak of the season on Saturday with a win over the Toronto Raptors (106-103), and the Wizards are back to .500 after John Wall led his team to a surprising win over the Thunder.
The Portland Trail Blazers are 15-8 on the road this season. If you look at that number by itself, it doesn’t seem all that terrible. However, if you look at the last six road games, you might feel a little different. The Trail Blazers have lost three straight road games and four of their last six. The two road wins came against San Antonio and Dallas and were impressive victories. The four losses came against some tough competition at the hands of Sacramento, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Golden State.
The Trail Blazers cannot write the Wizards off. Washington has been building momentum this season as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference (for what that’s worth) and they’ll be defending their home court, where Portland has the difficult task of snuffing out their post-OKC victory fire. This is a W for the Trail Blazers on paper, but so were their losses to the 76ers and the Kings. Expect nothing short of a battle, starting at the top of the key between the first-time All-Star point guards.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Nicolas Batum is a little banged up, but that’s normal.
- Glen Rice Jr. has been cleared to shoot, following wrist surgery, but will remain inactive.
- Al Harrington hasn’t played since November, due to knee injury and 15+ seasons of mileage.
Keys to the Game
John Wall vs. Damian Lillard. John Wall is Washington’s best player by a wide margin. He and Lillard both earned an NBA All-Star berth last week, and now it’s time to see who deserves the honor more. Damian Lillard plays a little more fiercely when he matches up with an elite point guard. His three-point barrage has to be enough to cancel out Wall’s inside game.
Protect the ball. The Wizards rank in the top-10 at stealing the ball, and top-7 at forcing turnovers. The Trail Blazers are dead last in both categories and it’s not close. If they can’t rise to the Wizards’ level, they’d better knock them off of it. Abundant Portland turnovers have been a costly factor in many of the Trail Blazers’ losses this season. The onus is on Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum to be facilitate with purpose.
Force them to foul. Yeah, the Trail Blazers are the best free throw shooting team in the NBA, but this sentiment goes beyond that. The Wizards are garbage from the charity stripe. Portland can capitalize on foul trouble more easily than Washington. If the Wizards try to answer by playing more aggressive offense, the Trail Blazers have less to worry about. I want to see the Trail Blazers push the tempo so the Wizards are forced to keep up any way they can. The line belongs to Portland.