The Portland Trail Blazers will continue their seven-game road trip tonight against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. The Blazers have now lost four consecutive games on the road after falling to the Timberwolves and the Celtics to earlier this week, dropping their season road record to 5-14. But they have a shot to bounce back against a Wizards team that has only won six games at home this season (and just nine games all year). The all-time series between these two teams is tight, 51-47 in favor of the Blazers, but the Wizards have the edge at home, 29-20. For today’s 3-on-3, we have Portland Roundball Society scribe Sean Highkin (@seanhighkin), along with TAI’s Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) and John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend). Three questions, three answers starts now…
#1) Since losing to the Wizards, Portland is 4-7 (the Blazers were 3-5 in the eight games prior to facing Washington in Portland, so there’s that); Washington lost six in a row after that magical Valentine’s Day victory in the nation’s northwest, but have won two out of their last three since.
With the Blazers actually favored by six point coming into tonight’s game, do they enact revenge in Washington as the Wizards come crashing back to reality after a win over the Lakers (and two days off)? Or do the Wizards surprise with their ability to play with energy from the start against a team coming off a road loss (to the Celtics) the night before (as, again, Washington has had the rest)?
SEAN HIGHKIN: The Blazers are two games into a seven-game road trip that will also take them to Indiana, New York and Chicago. In other words, they’d better win this one. On the other hand, they’re on the second half of a road back-to-back while the Wizards have had two days off. And Portland’s play has been so utterly pathetic and uninspired on every level lately that it won’t surprise me at all if they let their season reach new depths by letting the Wizards sweep the season series. (I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m still a little annoyed after last night’s humiliating loss to the Celtics.)
RASHAD MOBLEY: Coach Wittman can sit his team in the locker room, and use the video from the Lakers game as his version of a Knute Rockne speech, but with a young team like the Wizards, there will be forced shots (I see you Nick Young and Jordan Crawford) and attempts at redemption (JaVale McGee sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers game). But not only does Nate McMillian have Portland’s sham of a performance last night against Boston to show his squad, but he has a playoff spot to dangle in front of his team. With Ricky Rubio now out for the season, Minnesota could quite possibly fall out of contention, which means a Portland could slide right in there—and that motivation starts with a big road victory against the Wizards. 92-85, Portland.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: At a glance, the Trail Blazers look the better team. But recently the Blazers have struggled, losing five of their last six games, including last night’s 18-point loss to the Boston Celtics. Forward Gerald Wallace has admitted to feeling like he was aboard a sinking ship, and it certainly won’t be smooth sailing against a well-rested Washington Wizards squad. I like the Wizards to take care of business at home, 97-95.
#2) Which stat must Washington “win” to prevail? What about from Portland’s perspective?
HIGHKIN: The turnover battle will be the key here. The Wizards are the worst defensive team in the league, but the Blazers had 28 turnovers against the Celtics last night, a lot of which were unforced. Whichever team can do a better job of not being too careless with the ball will win. But it’s going to be ugly.
MOBLEY: In their last three victories (including the one over Portland on Valentine’s Day) the Wizards averaged a plus-10 rebounding margin. In their seven losses during that same span, the Wizards rebounding department averaged a minus-five margin. The Wizards will need to defeat Portland on the boards again in order to win. For Portland, Jamal Crawford has to score at least 25 points, to offset the possibility of Nick Young and Jordan Crawford heating up. In that Valentine’s Day game, Young had a 35, Jordan Crawford had 21 and Jamal Crawford had just three points.
TOWNSEND: The Wizards must win the battle of the boards like they did in their win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, a statistical edge that resulted in extra possessions and 17 second-chance points. Portland has to be smarter with the basketball to prevent Washington from racing to a big lead with transition scoring opportunities; the Blazers committed 17 first-half turnovers against the Celtics and had a season-high 28 for the game.
#3) The Wizards got 55 points from their bench in Wednesday’s 106-101 win over the Lakers; the Blazers got 40 points off their bench in last night’s 104-86 blowout at the hands of the Celtics in Boston. What bench player from either team are you looking to have the biggest impact on the game?
HIGHKIN: I wouldn’t read too much into the Blazers’ high bench scoring total from last night—10 of those points were scored by Luke freaking Babbitt, aka the Human White Flag. With that said, Jamal Crawford having a “good Jamal” game to take a little of the scoring pressure off of LaMarcus Aldridge would go a long way.
MOBLEY: Nick Young. He will shoot and shoot often tonight, because that’s what Nick Young is programmed to do. But he is well aware that his six assists and his defense on Kobe Bryant were key in the Wizards victory over the Lakers, and he will look to continue that trend tonight. I can’t believe I typed that.
TOWNSEND: If you’re looking for a spark from a non-starter, Jamal Crawford is your huckleberry. He’s averaged 14 points and 3.8 assists as a primary scoring option off the bench this season, and with his named linked to trades talks with the Timberwolves, Pacers and Clippers, Crawford should come out hot.
[Video clips courtesy of TAI's John Converse Townsend and Adam McGinnis.]