“We’re sticking him to that standard,” Beal said on a Saturday video conference, “and he’s sticking to it and he is.”
Hachimura was recognized by Beal and Washington manager Scott Brooks for his defensive performance in the Wizards 118-111 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. But he wasn’t the only one.
Beating the Blazers, Washington (10-17) scored their first winning streak in four games since 2018, and the reason is obvious: The Wizards fly because their defenses, long the franchise’s Achilles heel, have improved.
“We’re better at it [defense]”Said Beal,” because everyone accepts the individual challenge, we help each other and everything starts to click. We never get tired of doing the right things on the ground. I think that was just a testament to our maturity in our last few games. “
On Saturday night, the Wizards kept Portland 35.9 percent shooting, including 34.5 percent shooting three, and showed off some of their longest stretches of solid defense throughout the season. After striking Washington flat-footed and opening the game with 43 points in the first quarter, they didn’t score a single field goal in the last five minutes before half-time.
Just like their win over Denver on Wednesday, the game depended on Washington taking a defensive position in the second quarter. The Wizards allowed Portland only 12 points during that period, the fewest they have allowed in any quarter since March 2019, according to the team.
For the second game in a row, Brooks had used all three centers in the first 12 minutes. And for the second game in a row, it was Robin Lopez who had the greatest influence on the margins, with Hachimura playing a supporting role.
“I thought Rui and RoLo changed the game,” said Brooks.
The result was the fourth game in a row in which the wizards fell back deeply into their defensive stance and made life difficult for their opponent – even at the three-point line, where the wizards undone their previously terrible long-range defense. In the last four games, the team allowed opponents to hit three with an accuracy of just 32.1 percent, compared to 41 percent in the first seven games in February.
Of course, Washington started the month in a place where improvement was – almost – the only option, with the second worst defensive rating in the league.
But her progress shouldn’t be underestimated, especially against teams with offensive opportunities like Denver and Portland. The wizards now occupy 25th place in the defensive ranking. In February alone they are 12th in the league.
“It lets the other team know that we are here, that we will be physical, that we will assert ourselves and give them a hard time,” said Russell Westbrook on Saturday of the differences between now and earlier in the season. “I know we did a hell of a job tonight. I mean, they ended up shooting 35 percent off the field. We cannot ask for a better defense. I thought we did a damn good job. “
The defense also provided strong insult in the first fight of a four-game road trip on the west coast. Beal led all scorers with 37 points, adding seven rebounds and three assists.
Westbrook had one of his most efficient performances of the season with 27 points in 11-of-17 shooting and had 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his eighth triple-double of the year. The point guard now holds second place on the Wizards triple-double list alone, beating John Wall and Wes Unseld, who each had seven. Darrell Walker, who played in Washington from 1987 to 1991, had 15.
Hachimura added 17 points and seven rebounds, and the Wizards shot 50.6 percent off the field.
For Portland, Damian Lillard led five scorers in double digits with 35 points and still failed to beat those caged wizards who covered him every time he saw the ball.
Next, Washington is tackling its defense to wage a bout across Los Angeles that will face 2020 NBA champion Lakers on Monday before facing the Clippers on Tuesday.
Lopez is confident the team will carry the same defensive principles on the coast after extending the winning streak. Brooks said the Wizards have made strategic improvements lately, but players also attribute the recent defensive surge to a positive feedback loop.
When asked about Hachimura, who was actually tasked with guarding all five spots on the ground on Saturday, Lopez called the young striker’s defense “great”.
“He’s really locked up, he helps everyone and as you said he was incredibly versatile,” said Lopez. “I think it’s kind of a trickle effect [Moritz Wagner] He’s got a lot of energy on the grid, Russ has a lot of energy, and I think people can feel that. It was contagious. There was a lot of fun. “