Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons (1) shoots against Washington Wizards guard Monte Morris (22) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Washington. The Trail Blazers won 124-116. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
By Wole Akinso (@Wole_USS)
Washington, DC— There was a sense of excitement in the air. The Washington Wizards came into tonight’s game against perennial all-star guard Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers with a six-game winning streak. Not to mention, legendary rap artists Ja Rule and Rick Ross were set to perform after the game as part of the Wizards’ Friday Night Concert Series. In the first half of the game, the Wizards had Capital One Arena jumping. The Wizards had a 69-51 lead by halftime. All was well in the Capital One until Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons decided to unleash his fury in the second half.
Simons had 20 points in the third quarter including six three-pointers. The Wizards 18 point lead was down to a four point lead going into the fourth quarter (94-90). Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. spoke about the Wizards giving Simons and Blazers hope at the end of the second quarter.
“They got going early; Simons, right away, coming out of the half. I think that we were a little lackadaisical to end the second [quarter], gave up six free throws in that last minute or so. Which I thought kind of gave them life; got them going. Then when they came out at the start of the second half they were running on all cylinders.”
Lillard went 8-8 from the free throw line in the second quarter, which includes six free throws to end the quarter.
The Blazers brought a different energy at the start of the second half and the Wizards went away from what gave them an 18 point lead at halftime. In the first half, Wizards forward Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 points in the first quarter alone. There was an effort to exploit the mismatch with Porzingis and anybody guarding him. Coach Unseld describes how the Blazers’ defensive second half adjustments on Porzingis hurt the Wizards’ offensive flow.
“They started doing more switching and just kind of negating the separation. They crossed matched; put a smaller guy on KP. I think that’s where we started stifling a bit.”
Porzingis had 12 points in the second half and could never get back that first half magic.
“We got stagnant on offense. Some moments we were a little bit afraid to take the responsibility and attack and create,” said Porzingis.
Porzingis finished the game with 32 points and eight rebounds.
The Wizards ended up blowing the first half lead, losing to the Blazers 124-116. Simons’ ability to make shots, made it difficult to defend Lillard and his teammates. Simons ended the game with 33 points and Lillard scored 29 points. Once Simons got rolling, the Wizards were in for a long night.
“It’s pick your poison. You take the ball out of one’s hand. You got another guy out there who can do as much, if not more damage,” said Coach Unseld.
The team seemed complacent in the second half. The Blazers outscored them 73-47. The six-game winning streak is over but they must lean on the positives because they don’t have time to dwell on it due to Saturday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Star guard Bradley Beal looked smooth and in a rhythm against the Blazers. Beal finished the game with a season high 34 points. His three ball and pull up game was on target. The loss to the Blazers should not define the Wizards. They played a great brand of team ball during this winning streak and in the first half of the Blazers’ game. Porzingis is confident that the Wizards will bounce back from this loss.
“That team that played in the first [half] that’s us and we’re going to have that going forward and that’s it; bounce back tomorrow.”
The fans hope the same and want to remain excited about this ball club.