Washington Wizards fall to Memphis Grizzlies despite late rally


John Wall is assisted by Trevor Ariza, left, and Otto Porter Jr. after committing a foul in the closing seconds. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Otto Porter Jr. took the pass from Trevor Ariza, spotted up behind the three-point line, gathered himself and released a shot that has given him trouble throughout his rookie season. Uncertain that it would drop, Porter took two steps, still maintaining his shooting form, as if it would somehow direct the ball through the net.

When it finally fell, Porter let out a scream and the crowd at Verizon Center cheered with him as the Washington Wizards staged a desperate rally against one of the league’s stingiest defenses, helped by a rookie receiving his first meaningful minutes in months.

In fewer than seven minutes on Monday night, the Wizards had whittled a 19-point deficit to four and were within range of extending their season-high winning streak to seven. They would later get within two before they eventually ran out of time and had to accept a 110-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We knew this was going to be a tough game coming in,” John Wall said. “You definitely wanted to win to keep the streak going, but don’t let one game stop you from getting on a roll. I think we’re on the right path. Got to keep going this way.”

The Wizards (31-29) had won six in a row, including the past three without Nene and Kevin Seraphin, but mounting injuries and a quality opponent added up to a loss they hope won’t stunt their momentum. The Grizzlies (34-25) swept the season series against the Wizards, building big leads and fending off furious runs in both games.

“We can’t get discouraged right now,” Marcin Gortat said. “We battled. I believe that if we had at least one injured player [healthy], we would be better. We’re not going to make drama now because we lost one game.”

Wall had a game-high 23 points and nine assists and Bradley Beal had 21 points as all five Wizards starters scored in double figures. But Washington was unable to complete a comeback that began after Grizzlies backup Nick Calathes made a layup to give Memphis a 90-71 lead with 7 minutes 53 seconds left in the game.

Washington trailed by 15 when Zach Randolph made a layup with 3:32 to play, but the Wizards made four three-pointers over the next three minutes, matching their total from the first 44. The deficit was seven after Wall made back-to-back shots from long distance, then Porter followed with his second three-pointer of the game — and his career — to bring the Wizards within 102-98 with 77 seconds remaining.

“Made a big three to keep hope alive,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Porter.

Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince responded with a long jumper over Wall. Prince would finish with a team-high 21 points. Mike Conley, who missed the previous meeting on Feb. 11 with a sprained ankle, added 20 points and seven assists for Memphis.

When the teams met in Memphis last month, the Wizards lost, 92-89, despite Beal scoring a career-high 37 points. The Grizzlies were focused on avoiding a repeat performance and held Beal to just four points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half.

“Yeah, there was no way they were going to let me do that again. I knew that coming in,” said Beal, who bounced back from his rough start and scored 11 points in the third quarter, tying the game at 62 with a fadeaway jumper with 3:40 left in the period. But the Grizzlies closed the third quarter on a 17-2 run, taking advantage of some careless passes and several defensive breakdowns.

Conley made a driving layup as Memphis scored nine consecutive points before Trevor Booker (15 points) made a layup. The Grizzlies then scored the next 10 points.

Already shorthanded and undersized, the Wizards were also without backup swingman Martell Webster, a late scratch because of a sore back. Webster missed two other games this season with a sprained left ankle but has a history of back troubles including two surgeries during his time in Minnesota. He got hurt late in the Wizards’ victory on Saturday in Philadelphia, when Wittman said a 76ers player fell on his back.

Without an important piece of his three-man perimeter rotation with Trevor Ariza and Beal, Wittman gave Porter a rare opportunity to play. Porter scored six points in 10 minutes — the most he has received since late January. He hit a three-pointer earlier in the fourth quarter, his first in 11 attempts this season, eliciting a huge ovation from the crowd and bringing the team within 14 points.

“I just tried to stay ready at any time,” Porter said. “My number can get called at any moment of the game, it doesn’t matter what the situation is. Games like this when we’re down, [Wittman] looks for me to be more aggressive, and he told me, ‘You need to try to make a run to come back.’ ”

Ariza (15 points) continued his hot shooting from three-point range, connecting on 4 of 6 shots from beyond the arc, but came well short of duplicating his career-high 40-point effort two nights earlier in Philadelphia.

Before the game, Wall was named Eastern Conference player of the week for the second time this season and the third time in his career for leading the Wizards to the three consecutive wins without Nene. They entered Monday night’s game seeking their first seven-game win streak since January 2005. Wall had a slow start, scoring just six points in the first half, before erupting for 13 in the fourth quarter.

Poor weather forced Memphis and the Wizards to cancel their morning shootarounds, but the Grizzlies were still able to shut off the Wizards’ offensive staples — three-point shots and fast-break points — before Washington made a desperate run.

“They outplayed us,” Ariza said. “They deserved to win. I don’t think [the loss] was any indication of what kind of team we are. I just feel like we got beat.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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