Washington Wizards have a strong night on defense in win over Portland Trail Blazers

Wizards guard Kirk Hinrich, above, limited Portland star Brandon Roy to 18 points on 21 shots.
Wizards guard Kirk Hinrich, above, limited Portland star Brandon Roy to 18 points on 21 shots. (Duane Burleson/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 12:37 AM

Lock-down defense hasn't exactly been the Washington Wizards' calling card in recent seasons, especially when the likes of scorers Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler all were together competing for shots. These days, with a drastically overhauled roster that lacks true scoring depth, the Wizards have had to lean on defense to remain competitive, and on Friday night, they did so better than at any point in their season.

Entering the game with the NBA's second worst field goal percentage defense, Washington limited Portland to 33 percent shooting, the lowest by a Wizards opponent this season, and forced 10 turnovers in the second half to mask what was an uneven night offensively and salvage a measure of dignity after allowing Toronto to shoot 58 percent on Wednesday.

Stout defense was especially valuable down the stretch in the 83-79 victory over the Trail Blazers, when Wizards players were winded and thus not generating as much energy driving to the basket or shooting the ball. Despite those offensive lapses, Washington was able to win its sixth game at Verizon Center thanks in large measure to limiting the Trail Blazers to three field goals over the final 8 minutes 7 seconds.

"Go figure," Coach Flip Saunders said. "We give up 130 two days ago and give up 79 today."

Actually, it was 127 points to the Raptors, who won by 19 in a game that wasn't even that close. Toronto had seven players score in double figures, and none of them shot worse than 54 percent.

So Saunders ran his players through a practice on Friday morning that emphasized defense and little else. The Wizards (6-12) responded with their best showing in field goal percentage defense since restricting Houston to 39 percent on Nov. 10 in a 98-91 victory that featured the first triple-double of rookie point guard John Wall's budding professional career.

Wall was hardly on his game offensively against Portland, but he had several hustle plays at the other end in the closing minutes that helped blunt the sting of a night in which he went 3 of 13 from the field and had a season-low two assists with four turnovers. In one sequence, Wall got his hands on a loose ball and wound up diving into the first row of seats to try to save it.

Center JaVale McGee also had a hand in the Wizards' most convincing defensive outing of the season, blocking a team-high five shots. That's the second most he's had this season. McGee blocked seven shots on Oct. 30 in a 99-95 loss to Atlanta. In that game, he had but seven points and eight rebounds. Against the Trail Blazers, McGee scored 13 points and added a team-high 10 rebounds.

"We was all locked in on defense today," Wizards forward-center Hilton Armstrong said. "We were communicating. Everybody was talking. Everybody was in the right positions on pick and roll and pick and pop. We stuck with our game plan. Of course nobody's perfect. We had a couple of mistakes, but overall we stuck with the game plan, trusted coach and assistant coaches, and we executed pretty well defensively."

One player Saunders singled out during his postgame news conference was guard Kirk Hinrich, whom Washington added in the offseason in part for his competency on defense. Hinrich matched up on all-star Portland guard Brandon Roy and helped keep him relatively in check. Roy finished with a team-high 18 points but needed 21 shots to do so. He missed 13 shots, including 0 for 3 from three-point range, and had three turnovers.

Portland's starters combined to shoot 31 percent, and its starting front court shot 8 for 28, including no points from center Marcus Camby.

"We'd like to get to the point where we can hang our hat on defense every night and that would be kind of our safety blanket,"said Hinrich, who had 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting and chipped in five assists and three steals. "You get to the point when you're a good team, a good defensive team, you have bad shooting nights and you win games because you lock in and get the job done on that end."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company