On the last full day for fans to vote for their favorite players for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, the All-Star candidates for the Washington Wizards made sure to put on a show to send voters racing to the polls.
The backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal scored 49 combined combined as the Wizards defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 120-101 in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at the Verizon Center. The win marked the Wizards’ 12th consecutive triumph at home, the longest such streak at home since the Washington Bullets won 15 in a row between February and April of 1989.
Both Wall and Beal got off to hot stars, with each of them making four shots in the first quarter. In that first stanza, Beal made all three of his three-point attempts while Wall added three assists to go along with his eight points in the first quarter.
As a team, Washington scored 37 points in the first quarter and hitting six of its seven three-point tries to open up a 16-point lead.
“When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams get to collapse when I am penetrating and just finding guys, and moving the ball very well,” said Wall, who ended the game with 24 points and seven assists on 10-of-17 shooting. “Guys are knocking down shots and shooting with confidence.”
The confidence and the shotmaking has really intensified during this run of 12 consecutive wins, starting with a Dec. 8 win over the Denver Nuggets. While the offense has been the lynchpin to this run, the defense has improved incrementally, with Washington holding the Trail Blazers to 30 percent shooting (6-of-20) in the first quarter. The Wizards moved to 17-6 at home on the season, the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference. (Cleveland is currently 18-3 at Quicken Loans Arena.)
“Well, we like playing on our home floor, there’s no question,” said Wizards head first-year head coach Scott Brooks, whose team will, after Wednesday night, play its next three games – and five of the next six – on the road. “We have a comfort level. The baskets, everything seems to be good for us. I think our guys are comfortable, they like playing here.”
Brooks added that it’s more than just the baskets and the familiarity with the arena that’s been a catalyst for the team’s much improved play in their friendly confines.
“We want to make this a special place,” added Brooks. “We just hot to continue to give them something that they can be proud of. I tell them all the time our fans, they want 48 minutes of great effort. They’re not looking for perfection, they’re looking for greta effort and I think that’s what we have been doing this past six or seven weeks.”
Along with playing in front of the home crowd, the game came as a backdrop to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the famed civil rights leader being best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington back in 1963, occurring just a few blocks from the site of the Verizon Center.
“It’s a big honor to play on this day,” said Wall. “It means a lot to us and our teammates to come out and play well as we did, and get a win. It means a lot more.”
Both the Wizards and Trail Blazers played on MLK Day last season, with the Trail Blazers pulling out the win in Portland. But like the Blazers’ last game, a loss at home to the Orlando Magic on Friday, Portland once again dug themselves a double-digit first-quarter deficit and never were able to recover.
“I think even when we got stops we didn’t score and when we scored they scored, so in order to separate yourself with closing a lead, you got to get stops and continue to score and go on a run,” said Portland head coach Terry Stotts. “We weren’t able to go on a run tonight until probably the fourth quarter.”
Washington will continue to enjoy the comforts of home when they play Memphis at the Verizon Center on Wednesday.