The Washington Wizards went through a final practice at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon before embarking on their longest road trip of the season. It begins on Monday night in San Antonio and will take the team through six cities over 10 days.
Washington would have preferred to go on the road following a victory, but a fourth-quarter collapse on Saturday night led to a 110-99 defeat against visiting Portland, which got a game-high 30 points from all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Trail Blazers shot 51 percent and had five players reach double figures, prompting Coach Randy Wittman to instruct his players to pay more attention to defense heading into this trip.
“Our consistency defensively is what really cost us the game,” Wittman said.
One game previous in a 106-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards limited their opponent to 40 percent shooting and held a 51-42 advantage in rebounding. Those variables in large part allowed Washington to overcome a 21-point deficit and collect a signature win.
Defense and rebounding will be signifcant factors, Wittman and players said, if the Wizards (9-30) are to start this road trip on a winning note. The Spurs are second in the Western Conference and chasing Oklahoma City for a No. 1 seed, and Dallas, which Washington plays on Tuesday, is the reigning NBA champion.
The Wizards have lost six of their last seven games against Western Conference opponents, and four of the six teams they play during this road trip are in the West.
“Just staying with the defense,” guard Nick Young said of Wittman’s message. “Our offense is going to come.”
Heading into Saturday night, the Wizards had been averaging 104 points per game, the third highest in the NBA since the All-Star break. Washington had scored at least 100 points in three consecutive games and five of six before losing to the Trail Blazers.
“We just talked about our pace,” Wittman said of the Wizards’ scoring uptick. “Whether on makes or misses, our pace has been good. I think that’s what’s kind of given us that jolt, and now though you’ve got to have that understanding you’re expending a lot of energy in the way we’re playing offensively. We can’t take a step back defensively.”