Trail Blazers-Wizards Preview
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) -- A change in shoes appeared to help John Wall turn things around and lead the Washington Wizards back to .500 with a victory over the NBA's hottest team.
He may want to stick with the lucky pair as he tries to help the Wizards overcome an obstacle that has stood in their way all season.
Wall and the Wizards look to move above .500 for the first time in four years while dealing the Portland Trail Blazers their fourth straight road loss Monday night.
After struggling in the first half against Oklahoma City on Saturday, Wall switched footwear before putting up 15 of his 17 points in the final 24 minutes of an 96-81 victory that snapped the Thunder's 10-game winning streak.
The first-time All-Star went 7 for 11 from the field in the second half after missing all seven of his first-half shots. He also finished with 16 assists - his second-highest total of the season - to go with six steals.
"I didn't like how I played on the road trip in my white shoes, so I tried the red ones," said Wall, who averaged 16.3 points on 40.4 percent shooting in that four-game swing. "They didn't work in the first half, so I got rid of them and went back to my old white ones, and they kind of helped me out. I'm kind of superstitious."
Trevor Ariza had 18 points, Nene scored 17 and Marcin Gortat added 14 points and 14 rebounds to help Washington (23-23) win for the fourth time in six home games.
Wall has averaged 23.5 points over that stretch, and he'll try to continue that trend as the Wizards attempt to post a winning record for the eighth time this season. They haven't been above .500 since October 2009.
"We've got to not even worry about that," guard Garrett Temple said. "We've got a tough team coming here on Monday night."
Wall totaled 54 points while shooting 19 for 33 from the field in two meetings with Portland in 2011-12, but was slowed by a stress injury in his left kneecap last season. He sat out an 84-82 victory over the visiting Blazers on Nov. 28 before managing six points off the bench in a 98-95 win in Portland on Jan. 21.
After scoring a combined 169 points on 34.1 percent shooting in consecutive losses, the Blazers (34-13) - averaging a league-best 108.3 points - bounced back with a 46.1 field-goal percentage in a 106-103 win over visiting Toronto on Saturday.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 27 points and 15 rebounds, while Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews scored 21 apiece. Lillard, an All-Star for the first time, hit a go-ahead free throw with 11.8 seconds left as the Blazers recovered after blowing a 19-point lead.
"This was a must-win game, and that was the sense of urgency we took into shootaround and the urgency we start the game with," Matthews said.
Lillard and Matthews, though, have struggled against the Wizards. Lillard made just 34.2 percent from the field in last season's series, while Matthews has averaged 4.5 points and missed 14 of 16 from 3-point range in four trips to the nation's capital.
The Blazers will try to end a season-worst three-game road skid while recording their fourth victory in 10 visits to Washington. The Wizards had dropped five in a row at home versus West opponents before Saturday's win.
Updated February 3, 2014