Preview and Chat: The Washington Wizards

Kurt —  February 3, 2008

Records: Lakers 29-16 (5 seed); Wizards 24-21 (6 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.4 (5th); Wizards 109.2 (12th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (8th); Wizards 109.0 (20th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Antawn Jamison, Andray Blatche, Brendan Haywood

My Prediction: I think the Patriots win by 20, that they have another gear the Giant’s don’t. And I think I’ll drink a lot of Stella.

Lakers Notes: I don’t know about you, I can’t get enough Pau Gasol talk. He probably will not play today (although the Lakers could use him), remember he missed three of the last for Griz games because of a sore back. Still, he’s what’s on Lakers fans minds.

Long-time readers here know Xavier, a basketball player and coach (and blogger) from Spain who has seen Pau up close for years. Here are his thoughts:

Like most of you, I was shocked by the Pau Gasol deal but I might be a special case. Although my favorite player is Kobe Bryant, Gasol has always been a hometown hero here in Spain and having him dressed in purple & gold is something I can’t explain in words.

Leaving personal feelings about this deal apart, the Lakers have accomplished (thanks to our beloved Kupchak) an all-star caliber player without giving up any of our 3 core starters (Kobe, Bynum and Odom) and even managed to sign the trade leaving our bench mob almost intact. The only thing I regret a little is giving up Crittenton (although having Farmar makes him an expendable piece) and draft rights to Marc Gasol (It might look like I’m prejudice but this guy is really good and is competing with Rudy Fernández for ACB MVP).
But what are the Lakers really getting with Gasol on their team?

Gasol is a 7-footer who can put up 20-10 per night with a higher basketball IQ than most of you think. He’s been taught European basketball where movement without the ball is far more important than playing the isolation and offensive triangle is about moving without the ball and feeding the open men situation that generates the offense.
In Memphis most of his game has been playing face to the basket as he has a nice dribble for a 7-footer and sweet J , but he’s also a proven post player with a well rounded offensive game, hook shots and even a shy fade away has been seen in some games (which I liked a lot). He has a very fast first step that he likes to use it when playing on the high post or far in the base lane (click that link and you can also watch the classic Gasol-KG highlight). As a Grizzly he was the only man down there under the basket so he had to do it all and never played with a real C (uh, Darko Milicic aka the next Kwame Brown?), hopefully we’ll see him pairing with Bynum sooner rather than later and that will help him shine because they complement each other very well.

Pau has been labeled as a soft player. I’d actually say that he’s not as tough as the other All-star PF/C in the league. He get’s rebounds but mostly because of his size and good positioning not because of his strength. He has a career 1.8 blocks per game, not bad for a “soft” player. I won’t make much of an issue about his toughness because as a whole, the Lakers team has the pieces to cover that and he has shown that he knows how to play team defense.

While Bynum’s not with the team, Gasol will fit the C position and will fill it very well. Let’s see how Phil combines the team when Bynum and Ariza returns with our Forward loaded rotation (Odom, Ariza, Walton, Gasol, Turiaf, Radmanovic). What a great headache to have!

The Wizards Coming In: All Star forward (and a guy Lakers fans still remember fondly) Caron Butler has missed the last four games and likely will not play today. Gilbert Arenas definitely is out. Despite that the Wizards are a solid 5-5 in their last 10.

The guy carrying the load is Antwan Jamison, who is averaging nearly 22 and 9 over the last 10 games. He’s shooting 35% from beyond the arc in that time but a pretty average 49.4% (eFG%) overall in that time.

This Wizards team is Gansta — Andray Blatche is apparently a Crip Blood. He’s also a guy with a lot of potential on the basketball court, I remember him most from the Summer Pro League two years ago where he really impressed. There are questions about his decision making but he is capable of a big night.

For more insight on the Wizards, head on over to the good Bullets Forever blog.

One Thing That Is Bringing Me Down: In case you didn’t see it, friend-of-this-site Kelly Dwyer, one of the very best bloggers on the NBA, is not going to be doing much at the Yahoo NBA blog any more. Frankly, True Hoop has long been my first NBA read in the morning, but KD had made that Yahoo blog #2 with a bullet.

I know the guy taking over as lead blogger and he is good and certainly knows the game, but Yahoo has clearly decided on a style change for that blog. And it disappoints me, because to me there are moving away from the sports fan style to more entertainment-style. Nobody was doing quite what KD was doing or as well, and I can’t wait until some smart exec snaps him up and gives him another spot where he can thrive again.

Keys To The Game: I watched a chunk of the Wizards/Jazz game on Friday night and the Wiz frustrated the structured Jazz offense with a match-up zone (at least for the first quarter, Utah eventually figured it out). I expect that the Lakers will see the same thing for stretches — that means Kobe, Fisher, Sasha and Radman should get some chances to shoot over the top of it a little. Also, this is where Gasol can really help in his first game if he gets on the floor – if the defense extends out to get to those shooters, he should get one-on-one coverage in deep and Gasol is instantly the best interior scorer on this team. If not him, somebody (Ronny) needs to take advantage.

My feeling is Ronny remains a very key cog until Bynum returns — he is the only guy who provides energetic interior defense. He blocks shots and intimidates some. Gasol will bring a little of this but not much. Defense is still what drives this Laker squad and Ronny is a key part of that right now and his minutes should reflect that.

With the injuries two two of their three key players, the Wizards bench has been weakened — the Lakers bench should shine this morning and be a key part of a win.

The Wizards are not a great defensive team, but they are improved and have been playing better of late so the Lakers need to bring the same energy they had in Toronto to the nation’s capital.

Where you can watch: Breakfast with the Lakers. Game time is 9 am (Pacific) on KCAL (9).