WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Trail Blazers took advantage of a rare opportunity Thursday afternoon. And it paid off Friday night in a 122-103 win over the Washington Wizards that snapped a five-game losting streak.
What’s becoming a rarity for them – an actual, full-fledged practice – took place Thursday and the team seemed to believe it helped against what was an outmanned Wizards squad. In the NBA, with so many games and so much travel, most teams choose to rest on off-days and go through light shooting drills other days. There is video work done, too, but to tape up, get out on the floor and actually go through a real practice is not a common thing during the season.
“It was nice,” said CJ McCollum, who had 24 points and six assists for the Trail Blazers. “At first, you think, oh, practice... tape… but once you get out there, you have fun, you try to get things done… work on our shell, work on our traps, tighten up our zone and then get a little more comfortable with some of our offensive plays. We haven’t had a practice since we played against the Phoenix Suns (Dec. 16).
“Looking at one practice every month, month and a half -- so you have to really take advantage of it.
“Yesterday was a good one. Better than what we’ve done in a long time. We got a lot accomplished.”
Damian Lillard, who scored 35, including 13 in the final quarter to snuff out any dreams of a Wiz comeback, agreed.
“It was good to get a practice in yesterday and come out and get a win on the road,” Lillard said. “With the way the season is, we have a game every other day, pretty much, it’s important to us to rest and take care of our bodies. It’s not the smartest thing to always be on the practice floor, using that energy and taking that extra pounding. You don’t get to practice that much. But the fact was, we were able to get a good one in. We taped up, went over some stuff live. Sometimes it’s good for your rhythm and good for you, especially coming off the game like we had in New York, to get out there and do some stuff and tighten up.”
Coach Terry Stotts was pleased with his team’s defense, which held the Wizards to 26-68 shooting over the final three quarters.
“I thought we had some really good possessions where we got locked in and at least made it tough for them,” he said.
And he thought getting a practice in was helpful to that end.
“I think it probably helped more from a mentality standpoint,” Stotts said. “It was kind of a review and a refresher of some of our defensive things, but from a team mentality standpoint, I thought it helped.”
The Wizards were without Bradley Beal (out with a leg injury) and have been without John Wall (Achilles) all season, as well as several other injuries to key players that has left them as banged up as the Trail Blazers. Then, a minute and a half into the game, Isaiah Thomas was involved in a struggle that led to a jump ball, made contact with a referee and was ejected from the contest.
Hassan Whiteside had another big game, getting what is believed to be the league’s first 20-20 game of 2020, with 23 points and 21 rebounds to go with five blocked shots.
And the game also marked the return to the lineup of Mario Hezonja, who had missed six games in a row with back spasms, yet played 17:41 made 4 of his 7 shots and scored 10 points. He completed a couple of spin moves at the basket and appeared energized. It almost looked like the full Mario Hezonja Experience.
But not so fast.
"It's not full because I played without my back," he said. "It was half-Mario -- Mini-Mario.
"Honestly. (the back) was bad. We had lost a couple in a row and we aren't supposed to be losing in January. It's not about me, it's about the team. I can't stand around waiting for it to get good -- that's not why they brought me in."
Is he expecting to miss more games?
"Hell, no!" he said. "I'm a monster, man."