After losing to the Celtics 107-96 in the first game of a four game road trip, the Lakers don’t have much time to collect themselves with a trip to the nation’s capital today for a matchup with the Wizards.
The last time these teams faced off the Lakers were able to keep the game close throughout, make key plays on both ends of the floor down the stretch to force overtime, and then simply played better in the extra frame to pick up a really good win. That game was one of the first that made me wonder whether the Lakers defense was actually a real thing and one where the team’s small-ball unit looked to be a threat to not only keep the Lakers in games, but win them some.
Heading into this game, then, it will be interesting to see how game plans are adjusted and whether the Lakers are able to stay competitive against a really good team for the 2nd time in less than a month.
Coming on the heels of the Boston game, I’m also interested in how Walton manages his lineups. More specifically, whether he goes to Randle earlier and for longer stretches in the hopes of replicating some of the success units with Julius had vs. the Celtics while also recalling how big a part Randle had in pulling out the win vs. the Wizards the last game.
Make no mistake, though, whatever Walton does, expect a better performance from the Wiz this game. In the last contest, John Wall struggled to score effectively and efficiently, missing several open jumpers and finding some difficulty finishing at the rim — especially down the stretch of the 4th and in OT. Wall will surely have that performance fresh on his mind and will be looking to atone for what was, for him, a subpar game.
The other key player for Washington is Bradley Beal. Now in his 6th season, Beal seems to be putting it all together, shooting 49% from the floor to the tune of 25 points per night. He’s proving deadly off screens, but is also showing creativity as a scorer when working in isolation and showing he can work to get buckets off the bounce. The Lakers struggled to contain Beal in their first matchup and I expect him to give them fits once again.
On the Lakers side, I’m hoping for continued good play from Brandon Ingram. In the month of November, Ingram is averaging 17.5 points with nearly 7 rebounds an 2 assists a game. He’s been getting to the rim as a driver, but also showing better technique (and results) as a jumpshooter. These are the types of strides we’d hoped to see from Brandon before the year started. And, while it’s early in the year, I’m excited to see him starting to figure some things out offensively while also showing a penchant for locking in defensively.
I’m also hoping for more production from Brook Lopez in this game. Gortat is very capable big man who can bang inside, but Lopez can hurt him by extending beyond the arc and hitting his 3 ball. After a hot three game shooting streak, Lopez finished 0-4 from distance vs. the Celtics. If Lopez can find regain his stride as a shooter, it will go a long way towards creating the spacing the Lakers need to open up driving lanes and shots in the paint — especially with the added attention Kyle Kuzma has been receiving when spaced to the arc.
Lastly, the Lakers are now up to 5th in defensive rating after another more than solid effort against the Celtics. The Wizards are explosive in the backcourt and now that Markieff Morris has returned they have their full roster at their disposal. I am interested in seeing how the Lakers defense holds up this game, and whether they can continue to surpass what would have been even the most optimistic expectations heading into the season.