LOS ANGELES — Whether or not Marcin Gortat returns to play on Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Coach Randy Wittman feels that the Wizards need to take a different approach if they hope to leave this four-game road trip with a split. In their first two losses to Sacramento and Portland, the Wizards held leads before getting ambushed by teams that refused to let them leave their arenas with the upper hand.
“We have to get dirtier,” Wittman said. “We have to get dirty out there on the floor for 48 minutes. Sometimes we let ourselves get pushed around too much and then we react. So we have to get back to reacting first and be the guys that are pushing people around.”
The Wizards encountered that problem at the end of the second period of their 116-103 loss to the Trail Blazers on Thursday night when they let a six-point lead become a two-point halftime deficit in just 97 seconds.
Portland forced two turnovers, got a blocked shot and attacked the basket to get a dunk, a layup and four free throws. The last two free throws came with just 0.5 of a second left in the period, when Trevor Ariza and Chris Singleton were both caught staring at the ball after Wes Matthews missed a three-pointer and Trail Blazers all-star point guard Damian Lillard came soaring to attempt a putback dunk but got fouled.
“That was a big changing point in the game,” John Wall said.
After letting the lead slip, the Wizards never had another chance to get it back after Portland opened the third period on an 11-2 run. Wall went on a few one-man runs to get the Wizards close but they never fully recovered from that first-half breakdown.
“We got to learn how to close out halves better. We got to know time and score and situations and stuff,” Ariza said. “We’re still learning. Still getting better. Still time for improvement. You know, we got to learn. Can’t harp on it now.”
The Wizards seemingly would’ve been more alert about finishing quarters strong after blowing a five-point lead with 24 seconds remaining in regulation against Sacramento. But that disappointing 117-111 overtime loss, in which the Kings rode the momentum of a furious fourth-quarter rally to rule the extra frame, had little influence on how the Wizards attacked the Trail Blazers.
Gortat’s absence because of a lower back strain certainly altered the Wizards’ plans of attacking Portland inside. And, with the Trail Blazers going with swingman Dorell Wright in place of injured all-star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the Wizards were often forced to play small.
Though Washington has had some success with smaller lineups in the past, they got left in the dust against a team that is more accustomed to playing that style and loves to get up and down.
The Trail Blazers rolled in the third quarter, outscoring the Wizards, 33-22, and getting assists on 10 of their 13 field goals.
“They was making almost every shot they shot. Pull-up threes in transition, spot up threes. Whatever they wanted, they kind of knocked them down,” Wall said. “They came out in the third quarter and went on a spree of hitting shots, and getting a lead against us. We were in a hole, kept fighting our way back but they kept pushing it forward.”
Portland forward Nicolas Batum credited the run to the strong finish to the second period. “We were more ready to start the second half. More intensity and more energy,” Batum said.
The Wizards will now take on a Lakers team that should be energized by the returns of Steve Nash and former Wizard Nick Young from injury. Kendall Marshall, the Virginia native whom Washington immediately cut after acquiring in the deal for Gortat, will likely also be fired up to perform after offering his amusement over the Andre Miller trade on Twitter.
“Whatever, man,” Ariza said. “We can’t really worry about them. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and the things that we do well and the things that we aren’t doing so well and correct those. [Portland] played with more effort and intensity and passion than we did, I think. We can’t let that happen.”