Lakers Coming In: The Lakers are on a three game winning streak after defeating Detroit, Golden State, and Sacramento at Staples Center. Two of those opponents may have been inferior, but beating the Warriors was a huge confidence booster for the team.
What’s great for the Lakers is that they’re finally receiving great play from Pau Gasol, who struggled mightily throughout the first handful of games this season. He is finally living up to his role as the Lakers’ top player with Kobe out. They’ve also received solid output and production from role players like Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar, and Xavier Henry.
While Laker nation is pumped that their team is on a three game winning streak, the biggest news out of Los Angeles this week was Kobe Bryant signing a two-year extension through the end of the 2016 season to stay with the Lakers. The Lakers will be paying him top dollar for his services and while this may not seem such a great idea considering the stringent salary cap rules and the uncertainty surrounding Kobe’s Achilles, it’ll be great to see the Mamba retire as a Laker, especially if he returns to the floor at a high level.
The Lakers land in the nation’s capital for their first east coast swing of the season. This brief three-game road trip will take them through DC, Brooklyn, and Detroit. Last season, the Lakers defeated the Wizards, 102-96, in their only visit to the Verizon Center before losing to them at home, 103-100.
Wizards Coming In: The Wizards have an atrocious 5-8 record which would be bad enough for 13th in the Western Conference. However, because they’re in the weaker Eastern Conference, they find themselves just percentage points behind Philadelphia for the eighth seed. Despite their poor record, the Wizards have won three of their last four games.
The Wizards’ strength is their backcourt led by Bradley Beal and John Wall. Beal leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.6 points per game. Beal is a workhorse. He averages over 40 minutes per game and runs 2.9 miles per game, the highest average in the league. Beal also averages a speed of 4.3 miles per hour on the court, one of the fastest speeds in the league. Meanwhile, Wall runs 2.6 miles per game, tied for fifth highest. Wall is having a career year thus far. He’s averaging 18.6 points and 9.0 assists per game. His defense has improved markedly as he’s also averaging over two steals per game.
All that said, Wall will be without his running mate tonight as Beal has been ruled out with a leg injury that will sideline him for at least two weeks. Missing one of their best players is a major blow for the Wiz and a big break for the visiting Lakers. Meanwhile, in other injury news, coming back from his own ailments tonight for the Wizards will be old friend Trevor Ariza. Ariza won a title with the Lakers back in 2009 and he was averaging 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds before getting injured this year. He’s also shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and averaging over two steals per game. His return to the lineup will make the Wizards more athletic.
Keys to the Game: The Washington Wizards are highly efficient from the paint. Marcin Gortat and Nene do a good job down low when they get the ball. However, they don’t really get many touches. The Wizards have the fifth best shooting percentage for shots between 0 and 8 feet in the NBA. The problem is, they only take 30.9 shots per game from that region – tied for fifth fewest in the league.
They take most of their shots from mid range and three point land. With Beal and Wall running the show, this is no surprise. The Wizards take the second most shots per game from 16-24 feet but they also have the second worst field goal percentage from that range. Beal and Wall are both young, dynamic players. It’s not unusual to see young players try to take over and take a high percentage of a certain team’s shots in a game. We saw it in Los Angeles when Kobe was young. While it’s exciting at times, it’s not always effective.
The key for the Lakers tonight defensively will be to force Wall to take plenty of shots from outside. By forcing low percentage shots, the Lakers will be able to limit damage from the paint. Getting off to a fast start may force Wall to start shooting from long distance early. They may see that they’re trailing early and they’ll feel forced to shoot from three point land. If they start missing a lot from long range, this one could swing toward the Lakers side quickly.
Offensively, the Lakers must take advantage of the Wizards’ lack of defensive presence in the paint. The Wizards have allowed the highest field goal percentage on shots between 0 and 8 feet this season. The Lakers must pound it inside to Gasol and Hill and have them do the dirty work.
It’s important that the Lakers don’t get into track meet with this team. Once again, Wall is very fast. No point guard on the Lakers can keep up with his speed, especially in transition. Therefore, the Lakers must make it a focal point to not shoot from far out that often because long rebounds could mean easy transition points for the Wizards.
Where To Watch: Tip off is at 4:00 PST on TWCSN and NBATV.