Blazers Get Third Road Win In DC Thanks To Simons And Defense

by Casey Holdahl
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Trail Blazers got just their third road win of the season and their first on a six-game trip with a 115-110 victory versus the Washington Wizards in front of a crowd of 15,124 Saturday night at Capital One Arena.

“I was happy man, it just felt like we came out with the right mentality early on,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “It was really defensive. Obviously Ant (Simons) had a huge first half, you’ve got to love the shot making obviously, but our defense was so in-tune with each other the entire time. We took away a lot of things that they like to do and I thought it fueled our offense. Ant was able to get in there, made a few shots and now it opens up things for everybody else. I just thought it was a good, well-rounded win for us.”

The Trail Blazers are now 17-25 overall and 3-14 away from home this season. Portland currently sits at 10th in the Western Conference standings, 3.0 games behind the Timberwolves for 9th and 0.5 games up on the Kings in 11th.

After missing the first game of the trip in order to attend memorial services for his grandfather, Anfernee Simons returned to the starting lineup Saturday night and wasted no time making up for lost time.

The 6-3 guard, who has been thrust into a starting role with Damian Lillard sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery, in his fourth season out of IMG Academy scored 11 points in the first quarter and 15 in the second.

Simons would score 12-straight points for the Blazers in a span of two minutes and 19 seconds late in the second quarter which, along with their first-quarter defense, helped lift Portland a 68-57 advantage going into the intermission.

"(Simons) picked right up where he left off," said Billups. "Just kind of expoited the coverage that they were playing. I talked to him before the game, I said 'These are the shots that's going to be available, just take 'em. Who cares if you miss or make? If they're going to let you get those shots off, let shoot 'em.' It just opened up everything."

The Wizards adjusted their defense on Simons in the second half, sending regular double teams at the hot-shooting guard in order to get the ball out of his hands. And while that attention limited his scoring -- he went scoreless in the third quarter on just three attempts -- it opened up opportunities for the likes of Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic and Ben McLemore.

“Obviously I had a great first half, they adjusted on me a little bit in the second half,” said Simons. “They started doubling me a lot, sending two at me when I had the ball at the top of the key. So just trying to make plays.”

Even with Simons going scoreless, Portland still managed to outscore Washington by three in the third to take a 94-80 lead into the fourth and final quarter.

Though after holding a comfortable lead for most of the night, the Blazers had what was once an 18-point lead whittled down to seven with just over two minutes to play thanks in large part to foul trouble -- both Jusuf Nurkic and Trendon Watford would foul out of Saturday’s game -- and their three-point shot failing them -- they went just 1-of-8 from three in the fourth.

But Simons would come up again when it counted, hitting a tough, running 19-foot floater to to push the lead to 111-102 with 1:16 to play. Spencer Dinwiddie would make nets threes on the Wizards’ next two possessions to keep the pressure on, though the Blazers would make just enough free throws -- Simons, Ben McLemore and Dennis Smith Jr. combined to go 4-of-6 from the line in the last 31 seconds of regulation -- to come away with the five-point victory.

“I think as a team, we played great,” said Simons. “Obviously we let them come back a little bit, they started hitting a lot of threes, but overall, I think we played a great game. It was very disciplined on defense, just playing hard. I think that’s what contributed to us winning.”

Simons posted 26 of his game-high 31 points in the first half while also handing out 11 assists and grabbing two steals in over 40 minutes. And with seven threes, Simons became just the sixth player in NBA history to have at least five games with at least seven threes before turning 23.

Nurkic went 9-of-15 from the field for 23 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds for the double-double. The center also posted two assists and two steals before fouling out in just under 31 minutes.

Robert Covington continued to do yeoman’s work with 15 points, nine rebounds, four steals, including one to thwart a sure-fire transition opportunity late in the game with the Wizards rallying, and two assists in just under 31 minutes.

Little went 6-of-8 from from the field and 2-of-3 from three for 18 points to go with a rebound and a block in 29 minutes. Ben McLemore added 10 points in 27 minutes to round out Portland’s double-digit scorers.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Florida to play two-straight in the Sunshine State starting with a tilt versus the Orlando Magic Monday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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