Records: Lakers 16-2, Wizards 6-10
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.2 (6th), Wizards 113.5 (2nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.3 (7th-Tied), Wizards 114.7 (30th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Wizards: Isaiah Thomas, Troy Brown, Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant
Injuries: Lakers: Avery Bradley (out); Wizards: John Wall (out), Ian Mahinmi (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: There’s not much to say in this space that I’ve not already said numerous times in other game previews and recaps. The Lakers are 16-2, have won 9 straight games, and are top 10 in both offense and defense. They have the statistical profile of one of the league’s best teams and the resiliency of a team that knows how to turn it on when it’s time to win a game.
I would like to see them play better than they have been, which is a weird thing to say for a team that keeps winning. It’s been a couple of weeks since the Lakers have put together the type of complete game on both sides of the ball that leaves you truly satisfied as a viewer. That probably sounds pretentious and I get that. But when your goals go well beyond a simple return to the playoffs, getting up to a consistently high level feels more meaningful than squeaking out wins.
In other words, in the war of process vs. results the Lakers are skewing heavily towards the latter. That has its benefits, of course. Wins help the standings and those will help grease the wheels when it comes to seedings and matchups when it comes to the playoffs. Process, though, will matter when playing the best teams and I’d like to see that get refined too, even if it means the results aren’t quite there.
The Wizards coming in: There may not be a more surprising team than the Wizards this young season. Many had them pegged as a team that could compete for the worst record in the league, but instead they’re 6-10, only have a -1.2 net rating, and boast the NBA’s 2nd best offense. They are legitimately fun to watch, powered by a potent offense led by Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas, and a group of young players who play hard.
As much as the Wizards offense is able to score on anyone, however, their defense is just as bad. They’re currently last in the league on that end of the floor — something that shouldn’t surprise based on their personnel. Beal is a fine defensive guard, but few others on this roster present a real challenge on that end. Isaiah Thomas has long been known as one of the league’s lesser defenders, and whenever you give a lot of minutes to young players your overall defense will likely struggle.
Of all the players to highlight here, though, let’s look at another former Laker — Moe Wagner. Sent to Washington as a salary dump to help clear cap space to chase Kawhi this past summer, Moe is one of the forgotten 1st round picks made by this Lakers scouting department and front office. Wagner is thriving in his sophomore season as a bench big man who is shooting the ball well, setting screens, and working the backboards. Moe likely would not have gotten the opportunity in LA that he is in the nation’s capital, but his play has opened some eyes and it’s great to see him playing to his potential.
Keys to the game: Considering the Lakers recent struggles defesively, this game will offer an interesting test. Beal and Thomas have the ability to explode offensively and while the Lakers have the defensive guards to give them some issues, it will take a team effort to contain both. I expect Green to start on Beal and KCP to get first crack at Thomas, but Caruso could play a prominent role in defending both this game and the Lakers bigs will need to be active in helping out regardless of which LA guard is the primary defender.
The Lakers bigs, however, cannot just focus on helping — not with the Wizards possessing shooting bigs who are more than capable of stretching to beyond the arc and bombing away from 3. Former Lakers Thomas Bryant and Wagner shoot nearly 5 combined 3’s a game and both will run pick and pop actions to spread the Lakers defense out. If those two are popping while Beal and Thomas penetrate the paint, it could spell trouble for the Lakers defense as a whole.
One matchup worth watching will be the battle of bench forwards — Kyle Kuzma vs. Davis Bertans. Bertans, after coming over via trade from the Spurs, is hoisting nearly 8 threes a game and hitting them at a 44% rate. Kuzma, meanwhile, is up to 36% on 5 attempts from behind the arc. These two will likely end up defending each other this game and whoever wins their matchup will give their team a good chance of winning the game.
Ultimately, though, this game will come down to AD and LeBron vs. Beal. If the Lakers star duo can bring their normal outsized impact, they’ll give the Lakers a great chance of winning. The Wizards don’t have the personnel to deal with them individually, which should lead to plenty of help and opportunities for LA’s role players to take (and hopefully make) some wide open shots. If the Lakers defend with enough effort, that should be enough to lead to a win. We’ll see…
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.
*All stats via stats.nba.com