PORTLAND, Ore. — Marcin Gortat had been feeling a pinch in his lower back for nearly a week, but kept fighting through the pain with the Washington Wizards making a playoff push despite the absence of Nene. Gortat jogged onto the court for his usual pregame workout on Thursday at Moda Center, hoping to get his back warmed up and loose.
He made a few cuts, took a few jumpers and soon left the floor grimacing and holding his back after extending for a dunk. A late scratch, Gortat missed his first game of the season and the Wizards — with their two most effective big men sidelined — looked disjointed in a 116-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I don’t miss too many games and that’s what I’m upset about,” said Gortat, who struggled to dress without wincing after the game. “I just thought I could play through and today, unfortunately, it happened. I’ll be back. It’s not a big deal.”
John Wall did his best to carry the scoring burden, matching his career high with five three-pointers to go with a team-high 24 points and 14 assists. But without Gortat and Nene — who continues to miss time with a sprained left knee — the Wizards lost their second straight to open their four-game trip against Western Conference foes.
With the loss, the Wizards (35-33) are now a game behind Brooklyn for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 14 games remaining. They will take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Staples Center. Gortat's status against the Lakers remains uncertain.
“It’s an opportunity for guys to step up,” Wall said of Gortat’s absence. “We have no excuses and we know what we’re reaching for. We know we should be 1-1 on this trip, at least, but we gave away a game in Sacramento. Now you got to go out and try to get the Lakers and finish the trip even.”
Kevin Seraphin made his first start of the season in place of Gortat, finding out about 40 minutes before tip-off that he would get the nod. Seraphin had only appeared in one of the previous 10 games as he also recovered from a right knee injury, so the move had him astonished. He finished with four points and two blocks — including an impressive rejection on Portland all-star Damian Lillard’s dunk attempt in the first quarter — but was in foul trouble for most of the night.
“For sure I was surprised,” Seraphin said. “Again, that showed me, you have to be ready all the time. I was getting ready to come off the bench and they tell me, ‘You’re starting.’ ”
Backup big man Drew Gooden continued his solid play off the bench, reaching double figures for the sixth time in his past eight games and contributing 18 points with nine rebounds. Bradley Beal also scored 18 points but had another poor shooting night, connecting on just 6 of 18 from the field. In the first two games of this trip, Beal has missed 28 of his 41 shot attempts.
“I’m getting the shots. They’re just not falling,” Beal said. “The last two games I missed a lot of shots that I should make. I’m not letting it affect me any way mentally, I just got to keep shooting and move on.”
The Wizards had won their previous three games against Portland, including a 100-90 victory on Feb. 3 at Verizon Center. They beat the Trail Blazers, 97-94, last season in Portland as former Wizard Jordan Crawford knocked down a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
With their all-star big man LaMarcus Aldridge missing his fifth straight game with a lower back contusion, Portland rolled as Wesley Matthews had a game-high 28 points and Lillard had 23 points and 10 assists. The Trail Blazers (45-24) are now 3-2 without Aldridge. They shot 50.6 percent from the field and made 14 three-pointers, offering a clinic in sharing and ball movement with 32 assists to just nine turnovers. Matthews, Lillard and Dorell Wright (15 points) all made at least three three-pointers.
“It’s tough beating any team when they do that,” Gooden said.
Gortat and Wall had been the only Wizards to play in every game this season, with Gortat making 66 consecutive starts. A 6-foot-11 center from Poland, Gortat had elevated his game in the absence of Nene, averaging 15.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in the previous 11 games as the Wizards went 7-4. He had a career-high 31 points in a triple-overtime win in Toronto on Feb. 27 and had team highs with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the Wizards' 117-111 overtime loss to start this four-game road trip.
The Wizards got off to a decent start without Gortat, taking a 51-45 lead when Trevor Booker (10 points) executed a nifty spin move and made a jumper with 1 minutes 46 seconds left in the second period. But Washington poorly managed the rest of the half, letting the Trail Blazers score the final eight points before the break.
Wall attempted to split a double team by whirling the ball behind his back, but Matthews knocked it away, setting up a Lillard dunk. Martell Webster then stepped out of bounds, which led to a hook shot by Robin Lopez that tied the game. Then, Chris Singleton fouled Lillard as he attempted a putback slam and Lillard made two free throws to give his team a lead it would not relinquish.
“You cannot treat a game that way,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We just play sometimes and you have to close that quarter out with a lead. You work too hard in this league to get leads against good teams and to throw it away in 53 seconds hurts.”
The Trail Blazers began pulling away in the third quarter, takinig a 64-53 lead when Matthews hit a three-pointer. Wall made two three-pointers to bring the Wizards within three, but Portland went on another run to push the lead up to 17. Wittman said that his team has to “get dirtier,” which might be tougher if Gortat misses any more time.
Gortat moved around the locker room gingerly afterward but he said we would try to give it a shot in Los Angeles: “If I have pain but I’m still able to move, I will play. I will do everything that’s necessary to play.”