Streaking Wizards aim to remain hot versus Grizzlies

WASHINGTON — That the Washington Wizards are openly discussing the idea of home-court advantage in the playoffs shows just how far they’ve come since their early season struggles. Wrapping up their head-to-head series with the Memphis Grizzlies provides a good reminder.

After opening 2-8, including a road loss in overtime at Memphis, the Wizards (21-19) have found their way. Since Dec. 5, Washington is 15-7 and enters Wednesday fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. Winning 12 in a row at home helps the cause. The latest victory in front of their fans was among their easiest.

The Wizards routed the Portland Trail Blazers 120-101 on Monday after starting the game with 10 straight points and then pulling away for good with a 17-0 run before halftime. Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as Washington improved to 5-1 over its last six games.

The home streak is the franchise’s longest since the Washington Bullets won 15 straight during the 1988-89 season.

“We have that extra urge here, that will to want to win,” Beal said. “We want to be a great team here and home, we want to have home court when playoff time comes around.”

Slow starts have plagued Washington even in recent wins, but there was no such issue against Portland. The Wizards scored a season-high 75 points in the first half, hitting 9 of 13 3-pointers. The drubbing continued into the third quarter as the lead ballooned to 30.

“When we play defense and get rebounds, get out in transition teams collapse when I’m penetrating and then just finding guys,” Wall said of the explosive first half. “We moved the ball very well and guys were knocking down shots, shooting with confidence.”

Memphis center Marc Gasol knocked down clutch shots when these teams met on Halloween in Washington’s first road game of the season. Trailing by eight points with three minutes remaining, the Grizzlies (25-18) tied the game on Gasol’s 3-pointer with 15.7 seconds remaining. The All-Star big man scored eight of his 20 points in overtime as the Grizzlies pulled away for a 112-103 win.

Their current meandering stretch hasn’t allowed Memphis to pull closer to those occupying a top-4 seed in the West, a needed destination for home-court playoff advantage. Sunday’s 108-104 loss to the Chicago Bulls dropped the Grizzlies to 5-5 over their last 10 games.

Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 28 points and eight assists, but the Bulls shot 65 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.

“We couldn’t get to our defensive coverage to save our lives there down the stretch,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “The second and the fourth quarter we didn’t defend at the level that we are capable of defending.”

The Grizzlies are third in scoring defense (99.1), but only 26th in points per game at 99.6 points. Without its best effort, Memphis will struggle containing Wall, the only East guard averaging a double-double with 22.9 points and 10.1 assists.

“If we don’t get stops, it’s going to be hard to win,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. “That, for me, is what changes from game to game. … That makes it really tough on your offense, especially because we’re not a super firepower team (on offense).”

Memphis is 11-10 on the road this season.