Please excuse the abbreviated preview, I’m a bit under the weather today and can barely think straight as my head is asking my body to find the nearest bed.
Records: Lakers 17-7 (3rd in West), Wizards 6-16 (14th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (1st in NBA), Wizards 103.4 (23rd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (10th in NBA), Wizards 112.2 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Wizards: John Wall, Gilbert Arenas, Al Thornton, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Wizards: Andray Blatche & Josh Howard (out), John Wall (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: The day that we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Andrew Bynum will play in his first game of the season and will be inserted into the starting line up. Coming from the guy that’s been touting this guy’s return for some time this may sound strange but I think we now need to reset our expectations not only from Bynum, but of this team. The Lakers are now going to try and integrate a new player – an important player – into the mix without missing a beat and that will likely prove difficult at first. Bynum will surely be rusty and won’t have his full timing down on day one. Also, his return shifts players out of the positions and roles that they’ve been playing through the first 24 games and there will be an adjustment period for them too. I mean, as Kobe and Pau move out of the post and more to the wing, it will take some adjusting. This isn’t to say that Bynum’s return will hurt the team, but I’m only saying that if things don’t click right away don’t be surprised. This may prove to be the classic example of taking a step backwards before taking five forward.
The Wizards Coming in: Since the Wiz last played the Lakers 7 days ago, not much for them has changed. One would have thought that by pushing the Lakers as hard as they did that the Wiz would have gained some momentum, but that really hasn’t been the case. They’ve played two games and lost both by a combined 31 points. In both contests they were overmatched for most of the game and while the Knicks game had a relatively close final margin, NY’s front line really outclassed Washington’s. Plus, the Wizards are still banged up. Josh Howard still has not suited up. Andray Blatche has a swollen knee and will miss tonight’s game while John Wall continues to suit up but doing so with a sore knee and foot of his own. When three-fifths of your starting lineup is either unavailable or hampered by injury, it’s going to be tough to win games.
Wizards Blogs: Go read the great work that Kyle is doing over at Truth About It. You won’t be sorry.
Keys to game: When these two teams met a week ago the Lakers showed us two things: 1). That they’re a much better team than the Wizards when focused on the task of winning a basketball game. 2). That they are still quite capable of losing that focus in a contest, leading to a game being much closer than it should be. Tonight, the Lakers will be looking to show off more of #1 and very little of #2.
And with Bynum back in the line up, hopefully that focus will remain more consistent throughout the game. The big man’s return should have the front court rotation in much better condition than it’s been all season and with the guards starting play better defense of late, the Lakers should be able to control the tempo of this game to something that matches their liking.
Obviously, controlling the tempo means slowing down the Wizards three guard attack – something that Lakers struggled with the last time out. Wall, Arenas, and Nick Young all went for 20 or more points last Tuesday so the Lakers will need to do a better job of slowing this group down in transition and better contesting shots on the wing. Again, the Lakers wings should be better dialed in tonight, so here’s hoping that the Wizards’ wings don’t find that same rhythm they had the last game.
Offensively, the Lakers can finally get back to pounding the ball inside with Pau playing his more natural PF. In the last game Pau spent most of his time battling the long and bouncy JaVale McGee and struggled to establish good position and get up good shots against McGee’s extended reach. Tonight though, McGee will be matched up with Bynum and Gasol will get to go up against Yi who he should be able to handle much more easily. Also, with McGee’s tendency to help from the weak side, Bynum should get several offensive rebounding chances by moving to the rim whenever Pau (or any other Laker) attacks off the dribble.
In the end, this is a game that the Lakers should win and with Bynum returning I expect there to be an energy in the Lakers that’s been lacking of late. All they’ll need to do is channel that energy and keep their focus for longer than 5 minute stretches to start both halves and they’ll be just fine. However, if they let the Wiz hang around or they decide that tonight’s a good night to relax, the Lakers will find themselves in a dog fight down the stretch just as they did 7 days ago. Hopefully they’ve learned their lesson as tonight’s game is the front end of a back to back just like a week ago and the Lakers would do themselves well by remembering how much they struggled last week after playing a close game with Wizards the night before they faced off with the Clips.
Where you can watch: 4pm start time out west on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.