February 8 at 9:45 PM
Bobby Portis had spent the entirety of his young NBA career with one team before he was traded Wednesday night, so the emotions he felt in the 48 hours that preceded his debut with the Washington Wizards were new, and they weren’t easy to process.
The forward out of Arkansas found out that Chicago had traded him 20 minutes before the Bulls took the court Wednesday. As he absorbed the news, his phone buzzed with 600 text messages, waves of well wishes and notes of encouragement that he hadn’t gotten a chance to respond to by the time he arrived for shoot-around ahead of Washington’s 119-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night at Capital One Arena.
To top off Portis’s sense of disquiet, he hadn’t played since last Saturday, so he was sure he would start to feel normal again as soon as he got back on the court.
Apparently, Washington’s newbie knows himself well. Portis scored a team-high 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting, including four threes, as injured point guard John Wall looked on from the bench.
In the wake of news that he will be sidelined for around a year after he has surgery Tuesday to repair his ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Wall seemed lighthearted as he shared the only message he had for Portis all night.
“I just told Bobby at halftime that he got 18, [and] if you don’t finish with 30, you’re a punk,” Wall said in the locker room afterward, rocking back and forth on a scooter that supported his left leg.
Before the game, Wall, fellow star guard Bradley Beal and team owner Ted Leonsis commemorated Beal’s second All-Star Game appearance with a ceremony at center court. But during the game, Washington’s new players — Portis, Jabari Parker and (on a smaller scale) Wesley Johnson, all acquired in trades Wednesday — took center stage.
If Portis was feeling any lingering discomfort by the time he checked into the game midway through the first quarter, it showed only for a moment, when he drove into a double team and lost the ball on his first touch. But after that, the 23-year-old made his first six field goal attempts, including two three-pointers, to rattle off 16 points and help Washington take a 41-27 lead after 12 minutes that it never relinquished, although the Cavaliers came close to moving in front in the second half.
“He was a great pickup, and that’s an understatement,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Great pickup. I won’t expect him to have 30 every night, but I like how he plays. He knows how to play. He plays hard. He reads the game; the  shots, I can’t think of one that was like, ‘Ugh, he should have passed it.’ And he’s 23.”
Washington led by 20 early in the third quarter before the Cavaliers hit four three-pointers during an 18-3 run to cut the Wizards’ lead to five with 4:48 left in the period. Washington cranked the lead back to 10 briefly before a three from Marquese Chriss and a breakaway layup from Collin Sexton got Cleveland within three points with 32 seconds left in the third.
The Wizards’ lead stayed in single digits until Portis nailed a 27-foot three-pointer on a feed from Tomas Satoransky to make it 106-96 with 6:10 to play, all but closing the door on the Cavaliers. When Portis checked out of the game toward the end of the fourth quarter, he exited to a hearty round of applause.
What Brooks liked most was Portis’s feel for the game. The 6-foot-11 forward spent the night setting smart screens and showing off his range as he picked apart Cleveland’s defense.
“Sometimes you have to roll, sometimes you have to get to the pocket, sometimes you have to pop,” Brooks said. “And if you tell guys that, it’s too late. They have to react instinctively to be able to do that, and he has a knack for it.”
Portis played more than 27 minutes off the bench in a variety of lineups that Brooks tinkered with throughout, including a few in which he was paired with Parker, his teammate in Chicago. Parker, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, made an impact in his debut as well: He had seven points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in more than 23 minutes.
“He’s a mismatch problem for [forwards],” Portis said. “Most four-men aren’t told to guard the ball as much as he handles the ball, so I think that’s to our advantage.”
Beal had 25 points and 13 assists, and Jeff Green chipped in 15 points. Trevor Ariza had 14 points and Thomas Bryant added 13 to round out a balanced, fluid attack.
Sexton led a clunky Cleveland offense with 27 points, and Jordan Clarkson added 24. Larry Nance Jr. had 10 points and 19 rebounds.
Portis’s first day with Washington ended much as it began. He felt more at ease after making an impressive debut and being welcomed by his teammates — but he still had a hoard of text messages waiting for him.
“I got like 600 again; it’s right around at the same amount,” he said with a smile. “I just look for my mom’s name and text my mom back. . . . This has been a crazy 48 hours for me.”