On Tap: The Washington Wizards

 —  March 14, 2005

Things were off and running earlier this season in Washington D.C., but like the president’s Social Security plans, things have slowed down of late for the Wizards. And it hasn’t been good for either of them.

So far this season the Wizards are averaging 97.1 possession per game, the fourth fastest pace in the league. They take 44% of their shots within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and shoot 51.8% (eFG%) on those. The Lakers got a first-hand view of that earlier this season when the Wizards dropped 116 points on the Lakers (and won).

However, in their last 10 games the Wizards are averaging 93.6 possessions per game. The slower pace and lack of easy buckets has hurt their shooting — as a team they are shooting just 44.1% during that span (down from 46.7% for the season). The result, the Wizards are 3-7 in those last 10.

Part of the problem is the “Big Three” in Washington — Larry Hughes (22.85 PER), Gilbert Arenas (21.93) and Antawn Jamison (16.66, he is not 100% physically right now). Back when they last played the Lakers, those three accounted for 92 of the Wizards 116 points. However, in the last 10 games, those three are shooting 43.4%, and as they take the bulk of the Wizard’s shots the team is struggling.

They will try to get healthy against a porous Lakers defense ranked 27th in the league in efficiency, giving up 105.8 points per 100 possessions. With the Wizards’ strength being the backcourt and dribble penetration, they play right into a Laker weakness.

Despite their defense the Lakers have won the first two games on this road trip, led by Kobe Bryant, who is shooting 52.1% in his last 10 games. The two possessions the Wizards have struggled to stop this season have been point guard (16.9 opponents PER) and center (16.6), so this is a night Atkins and Mihm can step up big.

My guess is, just like the other night in Charlotte, this one should be fast paced and entertaining. That said, the Lakers would do well to slow down the Wizards, who shoot just 38.6% on jump shots. Besides just slowing them down, the Lakers need to stop the dribble penetration of Washington.

I said going into this six-game road trip the Lakers needed to be at least 3-3 when they get back home to stay in it, and getting off to a 2-0 start has been huge. Get a split of the back-to-back tonight and against the 76er tomorrow and the Lakers can reach that goal with games to spare. Including that little game in Miami Thursday.