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Fading Blazers look to end losing streak vs. Wizards

Sportsnaut
Mar 9, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Trendon Watford (2) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike (20) in the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Trendon Watford (2) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike (20) in the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers are rethinking how they measure success as they plummet in the Western Conference standings.

Portland carries a six-game losing streak into Saturday night’s game against the visiting Washington Wizards, whose four-game trip continued with a 122-109 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

The Blazers hit a new low on Wednesday when they trailed by 51 points in the third quarter of a 123-85 loss to the Utah Jazz.

Considering the team’s recent lineups, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Portland has lost its past six games by a combined 194 points. The team had eight inactive players Wednesday, including top scorers Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons.

The 22-year-old Simons has been one of the team’s few bright spots this season, but the shooting guard will miss his third straight game on Saturday with a left-knee injury. Simons is averaging 17.3 points on 44.3 percent shooting from the field.

Portland is one game out of the play-in tournament in the Western Conference, but interim general manager Joe Cronin isn’t focused on short-term goals.

“You want to build a competitive environment; you want a culture of winning,” he said. “It’s the old Vince Lombardi quote: ‘Winning is a habit, and unfortunately so is losing.’ So I worry about creating bad habits, but I also want us to focus on the big picture. We are locked in on next year — we were at the trade deadline and still are today.

“Do we want to compete? We’d love to compete on every level. It’s hard to think about not making the playoffs or losing the play-in, but we need to be smart. Smart with people’s health. Smart with our player development. Smart with getting these young guys the reps they need. So a lot of it is just focusing on big picture. Which is hard.”

Portland is aiming for a season sweep of Washington after recording a 115-110 victory on Jan. 15.

Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis is expected to sit out Saturday’s contest after recording 14 points and a season-high 14 rebounds against the Lakers on Friday.

Washington has fallen 2 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament after losing two straight and five of its past seven.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points against Los Angeles while rookie Corey Kispert added a career-high 21 points, including five 3-pointers. The Wizards struggled to contain Lakers star LeBron James, who finished with 50 points on 18-of-25 shooting.

One bright spot for Washington has been the play of third-year guard Rui Hachimura, who is averaging 13.2 points in five games this month.

“Every game I feel like he’s gotten better,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “He’s not doing anything out of the ordinary. He plays hard, does his job and he competes. That’s all you can always ask out of Rui.”

Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. also has been pleased by the play of reserve center Daniel Gafford, who had seven rebounds and three blocks in Friday’s loss to the Lakers.

Gafford, who is averaging 9.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, could move into the starting lineup Saturday if Porzingis sits out.

–Field Level Media