Preview and Chat: The Washington Wizards

Kurt —  December 17, 2006

Last Season’s Lakers. Houston certainly gave “The Kobe Rules” a shot, trying a few different ways to force the ball out of Kobe’s hands. At one point late in the first half, when Kobe had been bringing the ball up the court, the Rockets started trapping him with two men as soon as he crossed half court. They tried that more later, along with other steps, all of which wasn’t terribly successful (Kobe shot 51.3% [eFG%] despite using 40% of the Laker possessions).

The Lakers won in double OT, but that game look like last season’s Lakers — a lot of Kobe and not much else. Odom being out is chance for the rest of the team to grow, to step up, So far, there’s been limited evidence of that. And for the most part, one player taking a lot of shots is not conducive to winning.

Cook or Radmanovic? Vlad got the start, but in crunch time against Houston it was Cook on the floor (Vlad went out three-quarters of the way through the third never to return). In the last two games Cook is +20 and Radmanovic -19. If I’m Phil, the thought of moving Cook into the starting lineup is starting to gain momentum in my mind, even if I’m not making the move yet.

Defensive Challenge. The Washington Wizards are the kind of team that presents a match up challenge for the Lakers, particularly without Odom. Playing point is the exciting (if a bit odd) Gilbert Arenas, old-friend Caron Butler is at the three and Antawn Jamison is at the four.

Arenas is the leader, with a PER of 25.8 (10th best in the NBA this season) and a crazy good +/- of +28.3 (per 48 minutes, meaning the team outscores its opponents by that much when he is on the floor). He is shooting 47.5% on jumpers, 39.9% on threes and is quick enough to get into the lane. Also 18% of his possessions are ending in an assist. That’s a tough match up for Smush and Farmar (or anyone in the league).

Butler is scoring 18.7 points per 40 minutes and is adding 8.2 rebounds in that time. Jamison is shooting 52.5% (eFG%) on the season and his scoring and rebounding numbers are very similar to Butler’s.

The Wizards are going to score, they have the sixth most efficient offense in the league at 110.5 points per 100 possessions (the Lakers are at 109.6, 10th in the league). To slow them down the Lakers are going to need to have good rotations and Kwame/Bynum are going to have to take over the paint, block some balls and generally do some intimidation. And do it without getting in foul trouble.

But the Lakers should score plenty. Bet the over, because the Wizards have the third-worst defense in the league. Team’s shoot well against them (50.6% eFG%) but also grab 30% of their missed shots, shots there are a lot of chance for offensive put backs.

Defensively the Wizards are weakest along the front line — opposing threes have a PER of 19.7 against them, and both fours and fives are above average. The Lakers should be able to get the ball inside today and score, and look for a big game from Walton.

Blogging with the enemy. If you want to know what’s in the Wizards’ heads — well, not Arenas, I’m not sure we want to know that — there’s a new Wizards blog, Bullets Forever, worth checking out.

Things to look for. While Arenas is driving the lane, two-guard DeShawn Stevenson is shooting 42.1% from beyond the three-point line, the Lakers can’t collapse and just ignore him.

The Wizards are not an abnormally good shooting team — they are 15th in the NBA — but they don’t turn the ball over much (14.7% of possessions, third best in the NBA) and they get to the line a lot (seventh most per shot in the league). So keys for the Lakers would be creating some turnovers and staying out of foul trouble.

To me, the key is Bynum/Kwame. If they can set a defensive tone, and if they can grab a bunch of offensive rebounds, the Lakers should be able to control the paint and get the win. Phil has been frustrated with the pair of late, they need to step up tonight.

If nothing else, the Wizards are one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch.