PORTLAND — There was a time, not too long ago, when the Trail Blazers won the close games.
They were once the pesky underdogs, finding a way to somehow toughen up when the clock sped up and strut away as the alpha males.
The Blazers once owned overtime and locked in during late games, but after Monday night’s 98-95 loss to Washington, they seemed far removed as possible from being that team.
With 3.6 seconds remaining in a tied game, Wizards guard Jordan Crawford caught an inbounds pass, took one dribble and nailed the buzzer-beating 3-pointer over Wesley Matthews’ outstretched hand.
The dagger, then the disappointment.
Nicolas Batum recorded 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-best 11 assists but in his world, his first triple-double in the NBA shouldn’t count.
“We got swept by the Wizards,” Batum said.
J.J. Hickson shot a stunning 70 percent from the field for 16 points but only harped about personal responsibility on the defensive end.
“Every person in here individually must step up on the plate and (say), ‘I’m not going to let my man score.’ And (say), ‘I’m going to be locked in on what we’re doing defensively,’ ” he said. “It has to be consistent.”
The frustration hangs over every name plate in the locker room. Every player experiencing these new lows together, but also independently.
Rookie Will Barton said he has never lost this many consecutive games in his entire basketball career.
Batum, who has played his four NBA seasons in Portland, has never dropped this many home games in a row.
And now these Blazers are teetering under the .500 mark at 20-21, after losing their sixth straight — four at home — in a span of 10 consecutive games decided by six points or less.
“This has been remarkable to have this many games come down to the last 30 seconds in a row,” coach Terry Stotts said. “You don’t see stretches like this. The one thing that hasn’t wavered is I like the way our team competes. You can’t take anything away from them on that. I don’t think anybody can fault their effort as far as competing and staying in games.
“The pendulum has swung a little bit in the close games but that’s part of sport.”
When Crawford launched from 31 feet away from the basket, Matthews turned to watch the jump shot caress the nylon. He then lifted his head to the rafters, pulled the hem of his jersey out of his shorts and walked off the court as the Rose Garden public address announcer teased the 17,336 hearts with word that the play was under review.
But many in the crowd turned toward the exits just like Matthews, not caring for more heartbreak and the inevitable announcement: “After further review, the ruling on the floor stands.”
“We shouldn’t be losing, especially at home,” Matthews said. “We don’t take anything away from these teams, but we’re better than that.”
Reeling from their longest losing streak, the Blazers came in wanting to protect their home court. Their last home win came on Jan. 10 against the Miami, the defending champions and still one of the league’s best.
The Blazers knew it was high time to break this funk, and how seductively tempting to do so against the Wizards — and let’s just say they’re not the Miami Heat.
Still a work-in-progress, the Wizards (9-30) may have beaten the Blazers back on Nov. 28 but have won only two road games on the season.
At the outset of this meeting between the desperate Blazers and the dismal Wizards, the two teams depended on their veterans.
Plenty of LaMarcus Aldridge for the Blazers and a heaping of Nenê for the Wizards.
Nenê, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound power forward, entered the game averaging just 12.1 points, but surpassed that mark before eight minutes had expired in the first quarter.
Also, Nenê’s offense proved to be his best defense.
At the 3:08 mark, Nene finished a layup while absorbing a hack from Aldridge, who was off to a 4-of-6 start for 10 points. However, Aldridge’s second personal foul forced him to take a seat and he did not return until early in the second quarter.
Despite his first-quarter start, Nenê would not play an offensive factor until late in the game. By then, Nenê had taken a back seat to Crawford and John Wall.
The Wizards went up by five with 58.8 seconds remaining in the game when Wall stripped Damian Lillard near midcourt and raced in for the fast break dunk. However, the Blazers flashed their former brilliance, clawing back with Lillard’s slam then Matthews’ game-tying triple with less than eight seconds to go.
The celebration only lasted so long as Crawford, who scored all of his 13 points in the final quarter, silenced the joy and deepened the sorrows for a team in search of its former self.
“We’re better than that,” Batum said.