The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Washington Wizards on Saturday night by a final score of 127-118. Led by Josh Hart, Portland had a dream night on offense, building a huge lead by halftime and not looking back against the road-weary Wizards. It was a huge boost of confidence for a team that had lost a half-dozen straight, most in embarrassing fashion.
If you missed the action, you can check out our happy, happy quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve done that, here are other observations from the win.
Josh Hart had the game of his life tonight. Let’s talk about his defense first. The Blazers have been sorely lacking in that category for weeks now. They still had trouble closing out to the three-point arc tonight. But everywhere inside the arc, they were active. That attack was anchored by Hart. He kept his head, stayed in front of his man, helped on other people’s men, and forced 4 steals.
That explanation prefaces the numbers that will get all the attention nationally: a career-high 44 points on 15-21 shooting, 6-9 from distance. Yes, he was on a roll, but he also went HARD at Washington all night. Threes, drives…he had it all and then some.
The best part about Hart’s effort was that he remained under control throughout. The temptation to fill everyone’s shoes must have been great, but he stayed mostly within the offense and never looked like he was forcing it. He garnered 6 assists along with all his other fancy stats.
In short, Hart turned in one of the best efforts from any Trail Blazers player for the whole season. His offensive efforts will be eclipsed by star guards, but as far as an all-around effort, only Jusuf Nurkic’s best outings come close.
We’ve said all season—and for years, really—that watching how three-pointers fall will tell you how the Trail Blazers offense is going. That was a happy statement when Portland fielded 4 of 5 starters who were legitimate threats from the arc. Nowadays…not so much. Let’s forget the percentage for a while. They shot 11-30, 36.7%, tonight. That’s a hundred number. But your heart is in your throat every time a Blazers player pulls up for a three nowadays. Every attempt is an adventure. That’s not great.
Earlier in the year, Ben McLemore looked like a legitimate threat to carve a spot in the rotation, maybe an outside candidate to come back next season. That’s fallen apart as the season has aged. McLemore isn’t hitting threes well. He’s taking more and more of them solo, looking awkward. He hit 0-5 from distance tonight with a goose egg from the field overall.
Drew Eubanks did a masterful job at center tonight. He set the tone early, scoring on short-range shots, passing to shooters when he was guarded, and patrolling the lane for rebounds like a legit—no, accomplished—NBA center. His steadiness provided a central point around which Hart and company revolved. The Blazers are getting incredible value out of Eubanks right now. He scored a season-high 20 points on 9-14 shooting with 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 39 minutes.
Trendon Watford rounded out Portland’s trio of super scorers tonight. He had 27 points on 11-16 shooting. He made getting to the basket look as easy as trick-or-treating.
Scoring Made Easy
With a 127-point total endpoint, you might suspect Portland got some easy points against the Wizards. You would be right. The Blazers earned 28 fast break points (+20 over Washington), 22 second-chance points (+9), and 26 points at the foul line (+6). They also won the points in the paint battle 70-42, shooting 51.6% from the field in the process.
Remember the days when Portland couldn’t score on the break for anything? When every shot came after a halfcourt set, and was most likely going to be a three or a jumper? The Blazers were begging for easy buckets for years.
Now they have them, ironically just when those other, talent/skill-based shots have all but evaporated. They still don’t have the combo. But that’s a problem for another night. Tonight, good looks came thick and plentiful. That was enough for the win.
Portland will take to the road once again, facing the Atlanta Hawks on Monday at 4:30 PM, Pacific.