On Tap: The Washington Wizards

Kurt —  December 16, 2005

For old times sake, I think it would be nice tonight to see one of our point guards blow past Chucky Atkins at the top of the key and score on a lay-up. Ahhh, the memories.

The problem is the Wizards coaching staff has realized that Atkins is all hands, no feet on defense so he is playing a back up role (18 minutes a game) and that has pushed Atkins to ask for a trade.

No matter, the Lakers’ offense doesn’t revolve only around getting penetration and shooting threes anymore, the offense has become a lot more balanced — and that has led to wins.

In their last 10 games, the Lakers are 7-3, having won 6 of their last 7. While LA Times headlines talk about defense (and the Lakers had a pretty good defensive game against Memphis), the reason for the improvement been the offense has come together. In the last 10 games, the Lakers have had a defensive rating of 105.6 (points per 100 opponent possessions) and opponents have shot 48.3% (eFG%) against them — numbers basically near their season averages. It’s a big improvement over last year but not the reason they suddenly look better this season.

However, in the last 10 games the Laker offense has been working at a Phoenix Suns level of efficiency. In those games, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 109.2 (per 100 possessions), which would have them six in the league this season tied with Phoenix. In those 10, the Lakers are shooting 50% from the field, which would be fourth best in the NBA this season.

The big question is: How long can the Lakers keep this up? Right now they are on a bit of a hot streak, there will be ebbs and flows to the season. But as the rest of the players begin to find and fill their roles — something that was aided by the return of triangle-experienced players in Luke Walton and Devean George — this team is going to get smoother on offense as the year goes on.

Which is one way of saying — they can keep this up for a long while if they stay healthy.

The Wiz come in to LA wanting to run but the Lakers must not be eased on down that road (Washington has the fourth fastest pace in the league, 93.4 possessions per game). The Lakers are capable of running but, if the easy basket is not there, they need to slow it down and run the triangle — that has been the key to the win streak.

Gilbert Arenas has been having a career year for the Wizards, being a +9.8 (per 48 minutes), scoring 26.7 points per 40 minutes and with a true shooting percentage of 56% (remember TS% counts free throws in the mix, it’s basically points per shot attempt). For some comparison, Kobe is scoring more (30.9 per 40) but not shooting as well (51.2% TS%). When Arenas is not on the floor, the Wizards have trouble scoring, despite guys like Antawn Jamison on the roster.

The big let down has been a guy I and others said the Lakers should go after this past off-season — Antonio Daniels. He is a -8.3 and is shooting a horrid 31.8% (eFG%) from the field. CourtsideTimes.net’s Kevin Broom (who follows the Wizards) has said Daniels is lost in the Wizard offense and that his defense turned out to be a bit overrated.

Of course, a lot of the talk will be about the guys in the trade from this summer. Caron Butler has played very well for the Wiz, with a PER of 20.1 (up from 15.8 last season). His numbers are up across the board, not something shocking for a young player in his fourth season, but he seems to be more confident and is attempting almost 5 more shots per 40 minutes in the Wizards more up-and-down style of play.

Kwame Brown has put together a couple good games for the Lakers and now the team is wondering what they can expect out of him. I’ve liked him in the backup center role the last couple of games. That said, when Brown is motivated he’s the best front court player the Lakers have — and he should be motivated tonight to show his old team it was a mistake to let him go. I expect a big game out of him tonight.

Sometimes, after a long road trip teams tend to relax during their first game back home. The Lakers can’t do that tonight, they need to keep playing as they have the last seven games. Do so and this should be another win.