Wizards vs. Trail Blazers: Washington falls to LaMarcus Aldridge and Portland … – Washington Post
PORTLAND, Ore. — Word trickled through the Moda Center on Saturday morning as the Washington Wizards concluded their shoot-around. LaMarcus Aldridge, the all-star power forward Washington expected to dodge during its only regular season visit to the Pacific Northwest, had a change of heart.
On Friday, the Portland Trail Blazers announced Aldridge would undergo surgery on the torn ligament in his left thumb and miss up to eight weeks. Less than 24 hours later, Aldridge decided to postpone the procedure and play with the injury, perhaps a fortune-altering resolution for the Trail Blazers as they jockey for playoff seeding in a loaded Western Conference.
The Wizards game-planned and practiced as if Aldridge were going to be a spectator. Yet they insisted his presence wouldn’t change much because the primary goals remained the same: Limit turnovers and play stout half-court defense.
But Aldridge’s impact was felt. Aldridge, with black tape protecting his left hand, endured the pain and fueled a Trail Blazers comeback with a game-high 26 points in a frustrating 103-96 loss for the Wizards to begin a four-game west coast trip on the three-year anniversary of Randy Wittman’s promotion from assistant to head coach.
Like in previous visits to Western Conference locales this season, Washington (29-15) built a double-digit lead only to fumble it away. The collapse could be traced to an ugly third quarter. Washington went away from the ball movement that guided them to a 10-point halftime advantage and with 1 minute 42 seconds remaining in the period Portland claimed a lead for the first time.
“We got to learn to continue to play a game with the success you have,” Wittman said. “And we came out in the third quarter offensively and didn’t. There was no ball movement.”
Washington went into the half with 16 assists to six turnovers. The ratio diminished to eight assists and six turnovers in the second half. The stagnation on offense was amplified by Portland’s lights-out three-point shooting at the other end. After hitting just 5-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first 24 minutes, the Trail Blazers went 8 of 17 after the break to finish with 13 three-pointers and outscore Washington by 24 points from three-point range.
As a result, Portland took control despite the Wizards outshooting the Trail Blazers 48.8 to 40.2 percent.
“We just failed at just continuing to play the right way in the second half,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “We have to go with what’s working. It works, us moving and sharing the ball, playing solid defense, not gambling. It works. And we just get away from it for some reason.”
The Wizards, however, still had opportunities down the stretch to rectify the stumble. But a back-breaking sequence began with 16.9 seconds remaining, when the Wizards, down 99-96, forced a Wesley Matthews miss from beyond the arc. The stop went for naught because Dorell Wright secured the long rebound and the Wizards, despite Wittman’s adamant demand from the sideline, waited eight seconds before fouling to stop the clock.
John Wall finally fouled Damian Lillard with 7.9 seconds remaining and Lillard, who finished with 20 points and seven assists, nailed both free throws to complete the Trail Blazers’ 20-for-20 night from the charity stripe. At the other end, Aldridge stole Wall’s pass with 5.9 seconds left to seal the win.
“Your answer is as good as mine, man, because we can’t seem to figure it out,” Beal said, referring to the Wizards’ late-game execution troubles. “We need to figure it out soon because we’re playing a bunch of tough teams and these are playoff-caliber teams and we can’t afford to do this.”
Four of the Wizards’ five starters reached double figures by halftime. Wall recorded a team-high 25 points and nine assists. Paul Pierce contributed 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting and six rebounds. He went 3 for 4 from beyond the three-point line and tallied his 2,000th career three-pointer in the third quarter to join Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, and Jason Terry in the exclusive club.
Portland (32-13) was without starting center Robin Lopez, starting small forward Nicolas Batum and backup Joel Freeland, and had trouble early on dealing with a deep Wizards front line that continues to pose problems for opponents.
Nene headed the charge, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter as the Wizards jumped out to an early 11-point lead. Portland missed its first nine shots from the field and didn’t register a field goal until Aldridge hit a midrange jumper four minutes into the contest.
But the Wizards went away from Nene in the second half — he scored just two points after halftime — and he fouled out contesting a three-pointer with 1:08 remaining as the Wizards failed in the waning moments once again.
“It’s consistency,” Pierce said. “Little things. We just got to continue to work, look at the little things, remember why we got the lead, and continue to do those things. It takes consistency to win in this league, and the things that you becomes habit. We’re still learning even though it’s more than halfway through the season. We have our ups and downs, but we just got to learn to be more consistent.”