On Wednesday the Wizards (8-29) welcome the league’s leading scorer Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers (23-14) to the Verizon Center for the fourth game of their five game home stand. The Wizards haven’t notched a victory against the West Coast powerhouse since December 17, 2006. Even then, it took 60 points from Gilbert Arenas to get the job done. The two teams cross paths as their seasons head in opposite directions. The Lakers have found themselves winners of four of their last five games. The Wizards have only been victorious in one of their last five efforts.
The Wizards look to rebound from a dismal outing Monday night against the Golden State Warriors. John Wall has been the only consistent Wizards as of late and is averaging 20.7 points and 9.6 assists over his last ten games. For the Wizards to have a chance against the Lakers, some of their other players will need to chip in.
Los Angeles native Nick Young has enjoyed some success against the Lakers. In the last three games between the two teams, Young has averaged 24.3 points. After sitting out a game with a knee injury, Young came back and scored 25 points in 25 minutes against the Warriors Monday. He shot 64% from the field while connecting on four of his six three point attempts. Nick has never been the model of consistency, but don’t be surprised if we see another solid outing from him on Wednesday.
In the eyes of most, the Lakers have the three best players in this match-up in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Kobe is averaging 28.9 points per game this season at 33 years old and has shown no signs of slowing down after 15 years in the league. Bynum and Gasol are both averaging double-doubles in points and rebounds this season. Under new head coach Mike Brown, the Lakers have been winning games behind their defense. Their 91.4 points allowed per game is fifth best in the league and their opponents have the lowest field goal percentage in the league at 41%. Combine that with the fact that the Wizards are in the bottom third of the league in field goal percentage and we could be in for a bad night.
The Wizards’ best chance to steal a win could be in the transition game. Their youth and athleticism have helped them become second best in the league in fast break points. The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves on the opposite end of that spectrum. They are the second worst team in the league in fast break points scored and near the bottom in fast break points allowed as well. Much of this can be credited to the age of the Lakers premier players.
The Lakers’ starting line-up of Fisher, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum features four players that are at least 31 years old. The oldest player in the Wizards’ starting line-up is Nick Young at 26 years old. However, with age comes experience and the Lakers’ skilled veterans control the pace of the game while doing most of their scoring out of their half-court sets, something the Wizards could use some help with.
Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum will likely be an issue for the Wizards down low. He boasts a 50-pound weight advantage over JaVale McGee and has length similar to JaVale. For JaVale to be effective against the Lakers, he will have to use his ability to run the court and try to score in transition before the Lakers’ defense can set-up.
The Lakers’ other 7-footer, Pau Gasol, is the skilled post-scorer the Wizards wish they had. Gasol has struggled in the past against tougher, more physical forwards, a mold that Wizards’ power forward Trevor Booker is cut from. If Booker can knock Gasol around and get him out of his game, the Wizards could take away one of the Lakers’ most efficient and versatile offensive weapons.
Match-ups to watch:
- The point guards:John Wall vs Derek Fisher – Can Wall use his speed and athleticism to outrun the wily old veteran? Many consider Fisher a liability on defense, but he uses his high basketball IQ and clutch shooting to find ways to contribute.
- The scorers: Nick Young and Jordan Crawford vs. Kobe Bryant - Don’t be surprised if these three players combine for 60 or more shots. The Lakers’ biggest weakness is their bench. Crawford will likely get the start Wednesday, but Young will likely see a lot of minutes off the bench and needs to come out shooting well.
- The fours: Trevor Booker vs Pau Gasol - Gasol has a five inch height advantage over Booker, but Booker outweighs Gasol by ten pounds. Booker is as tough as they come and has been effective at guarding bigger guys, while Pau has had his fair share of naysayers calling him “soft”.
Fun fact about Wednesday’s match-up: Wizards’ power forward Andray Blatche returned Monday after a 16 game absence due to a strained left calf. Blatche is 1-7 against the Lakers in his career. His only win came in a game where he played 2 minutes and did not attempt a shot.
My prediction: Lakers 94 Wizards 81. The Lakers’ tough defense forces the Wizards into a bad shooting night and the Wizards get lost trying to guard the Lakers’ arsenal of high screens and pick-and-rolls.
The game tips off at the Verizon Center Wednesday at 7pm. Follow along with me on Twitter @cooooooookiee.