Preview and Chat: The Washington Wizards

Darius Soriano —  December 7, 2010

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Records: Lakers 14-6 (4th in the West), Wizards 6-13 (13th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.2 (1st in NBA), Wizards 103.5 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (12th in NBA), Wizards 111.6 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Wizards: John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Alonzo Gee, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff (out); Wizards: Josh Howard (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  It’s funny what a blowout win (regardless of opponent) and some days off can do for a team.  Before Friday’s demolition of Sacramento, the Lakers looked worn down and were in midst of a 4 game slide.  Now, nearly every story details how things are looking up.  After a couple days of rest, Pau Gasol’s hamstring is much improvedAndrew Bynum continues to progress and is now practicing, participating in full court, 5 on 5 scrimmages, and could be back in the next week.  Ron Artest may be struggling some, but with the team winning more than it’s losing, he’s perfectly fine with a reduced role.

Really, this all falls in with what we consistently try to focus on around these parts: it’s a long season and there will be ups and downs.  Last week was definitely one of the valleys of this season but those times are unavoidable in all but the most historic of seasons.  The Lakers must continue to take the long view and things will sort themselves out over time.  It doesn’t change the fact that frustrations will occur (just as those remarkably high moments will), but if the goal is to be playing the best at the end of the year it’s times like the recent lows that help a team build towards that end point.

Transitioning back to tonight’s game, FB&G did choose a winner for our “rookie love” ticket giveaway for tonight’s Wizards game.  There were many great entries and after reading them all and debating, we whittled them down to a handful that we really liked most.  At that point we randomly chose a winner and Chris’ memory of Eddie Jones’ performance against Philly on the road was the lucky entry.  Thanks to all of you who shared your favorite rookie moments and another special thanks to StubHub for providing the tickets to tonight’s game.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do this again before the end of the season.

The Wizards Coming in: The Wizards have won once in their last 6 games.  They’re playing like a team that was in bad enough shape to earn the #1 overall pick in last year’s draft and have mismatched parts that only have a casual relationship with playing offense and defense correctly.  Despite the bright light that is John Wall, the Wiz just don’t have the right mix of players or the winning culture to turn around a team that is still recovering from last year’s fire sale of Butler, Jamison, and Haywood and the return of Gilbert Arenas from health and his suspension due to locker room “issues”.  But rather than take my word for it, here’s an excerpt from Truth About It’s Kyle Weidie when he recapped the Wizard’s most recent loss to the Suns:

This Wizards team is hard to dissect, and I don’t mean “take apart,” as Steve Nash did on Sunday evening on his way to captaining his Suns to a 125-108 victory.  The Wizards are hard to dissect in the sense of separating individual parts to determine why the team continues to lose in the worst of ways (and win by the skin of their teeth). Anything and everything could go wrong on a given night.  On offense, in general, the team wastes too many possessions with bad shots. Pretty simple to conclude that they could use a lot more discipline in this regard. On defense, it comes down to focus and will, something several Wizards have major issues with.

Wizards Blogs: As briefly shown in the above sampling, Kyle Weidie and crew run the great site Truth About It that chronicles the daily happenings of the team in our nation’s capital.

Keys to game: The Wizards aren’t a much better team than the Kings so a win is there for the taking if the Lakers play with aggression and focus.

Offensively, the Lakers should attack inside with both Gasol and Kobe and make the Wizards make hard choices about whether or not to send double teams.  Gasol will be matched up with one of the more athletic bigs in the NBA in JaVale McGee, but the Wizard Center is also undisciplined in his approach on defense.  Pau should be able to attack McGee on the left block by backing him down and setting him up for his baseline lefty hook or by driving hard to the middle and getting off his short jumper.  Where Pau could struggle is if he tries to finesse McGee too often in the post by always relying on his turnaround jumper, but if Pau shows variety in his attack by facing up and then driving into his post ups, he should have good success.

As for Kobe, he’ll likely be guarded by Kirk Hinrich – a player that’s one of the more underrated perimeter defenders in the league.  I anticipate Kobe having trouble beating Kirk off the dribble (even guys like Lebron and Wade have trouble with him, so Kobe likely will too), so where Kobe can do damage is out of the triple threat and on the low block or elbow in post up situations.  When Kobe makes perimeter catches, he needs to be judicious with how he uses his dribble and not tip his hand too early by putting the ball on the ground immediately.  Instead, Kobe can use his array of jab steps and feints to create space to shoot his jumper over the top of Kirk or put the ball on the ground to go into back down moves from the short wing.  Once in the post, Kobe can use his superior size and strength to get good position and either shoot over the top or pick out cutters or shooters cross court who should be open against a collapsing defense.

Defensively, the Lakers need to be prepared to defend in transition and on the pick and roll.  John Wall is simply dynamic in the open court and will try to single handedly break down the Lakers transition D by pushing the ball and probing for any sliver of space to get to the basket.  Plus, as mentioned, McGee is one of the more athletic bigs in the NBA and he serves as a great running mate for Wall.  McGee loves to run post lane sprints and catch lobs against bigs that can’t match his footspeed so the onus will be on Gasol and Odom to change ends well.  This will not only to contest McGee’s runouts, but will also help block off the lane against Wall.  The flip side to McGee’s (and Blatche’s) tendency to run out is that they often do not handle their defensive rebounding responsibilities.  So, tonight is a game where Odom and Gasol can feast on the offensive glass but they will need to balance that with knowing when the board is secured by the Wiz and then turn and sprint back.

When defending the P&R, the Lakers need to have a consistent strategy in place and I believe it should start with going under the screen on every ball handler that initiates this action.  While Wall shows decent shooting ability, he’s much more dangerous against a trailing defender when he can turn the corner and attack the paint so the Lakers should surrender the long jumper to both him and Hinrich when either are handling the ball.  Make these guys beat you from the outside and not in the paint where their attacking ways can get the Lakers depleted front line in foul trouble.  Arenas is a bit trickier on this action, but I suggest letting him fire away until he proves effective from long range.

The battle of the benches will also be big tonight.  The Wiz aren’t an especially deep team, but they do bring the aforementioned Arenas off their bench as an offensive spark.  Tonight Brown and Blake will have their hands full dealing with Gilbert’s varied offensive game where he’ll shoot or attack off the bounce in any given situation.  Obviously his knee issues have limited some of his explosion at the rim, but he’s still a dangerous penetrator that will finish inside if the big is back pedaling when he turns the corner.  And when you combine Arenas with Nick Young and Yi, the Wiz do bring scorers off their bench and the Lakers second unit will need to have even more of a defensive mentality than usual tonight.

When analyzing this match up, the Lakers should win.  But should and certainly will are two different things.  The Lakers have the ability to outclass this team early and turn the game into a blowout if they operate with the proper mindset.  However, this Wiz team does show some fight (they forced a triple OT game against Philly last week) and won’t stay down with a foot firmly planted on their neck once they show weakness.  The Lakers have that ability – we’ve seen it many times this year – but they’ve also shown the ability to coast.  Depending on which Laker team shows up will go a long way in determining how close this game is going into the 4th quarter.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time out West on Fox Sports.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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