The Wizards bring their 1-31 road record into Portland tonight to face off against Trailblazers where the home team is 24-10 at their Rose Garden home.
Earlier this afternoon, Michael Lee of The Washington Post reported via Twitter that Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche & Josh Howard didn’t travel, and that Nick Young (left knee) won’t play tonight. While each of those four players also sat out in their win Sunday over the Nets, the Portland is a better team than New Jersey. Given that the Wizards are already eliminated from the playoffs, Portland also has more to play for, as they are in the thick of a playoff race, currently sitting at 6th place in the Western Conference.
A valiant 2nd-half effort lifted the Wizards in their triumph over New Jersey on Sunday. Tonight they will need that kind of effort for the duration if they hope to be in this game in the 4th quarter. They will especially need to protect their defensive backboards. The Wizards gave up 21 offensive-rebounds to the Nets, an average offensive rebounding team (15th) – it was primarily a huge turnover differential in their favor (Wizards 11, Nets 22) that allowed the Wizards to stay in that game. The Blazers are the 5th best offensive-rebounding team in the league – the one area where they are elite – and are a much better offensive team overall than New Jersey. If Washington surrenders such a number of rebounds on the defensive end, they will surely be made to pay.
One thing I will be watching during this game, along with the turnovers and battle on the boards, is how the Wizards defend LaMarcus Aldridge. He has become a beast in the paint this year, but he will set up in a variety of places within the Blazers offense. It will be important for Washington to keep a body on him, as Portland likes to set screens for him away from the ball to get him lobs and catches close to the basket. They also use him in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations where he is a threat cutting to the basket or stepping back for the jumper. He is used to drawing a lot of attention in the paint, however, and has become adept at moving the ball quickly out of the post to begin the swing to an open 3-point shooter. The Wizards must then rotate to and close out on their 3-point shooters, running them off of the line into their help defense. In short, Aldridge is a multi-faceted weapon who can really punish an undisciplined team if they fail to account for all the ways he can attack them.
While the Wizards do not enter this game as the favorite, they have a chance to compete if they carry over the efficiency and effort from Sunday’s 2nd half into tonight. That means taking care of the ball, taking good shots, and playing solid defense. The fact that they are not favored doesn’t render them defeated; but the talent disadvantage they face does mean that they will struggle mightily if they don’t match their opponent’s effort. If they bring that type of approach from the opening tip, this game will be a success regardless of the outcome; and they just may give themselves a chance to earn their second win on the road.