Washington Wizards Three Takeaways: Wizards Comeback Against Lakers, Win Southeast Division Title

Washington Wizards clinched the Southeast Division Title against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night for the first time in almost 40 years.

Washington Wizards, led by 34 points and 14 assists from John Wall, dominated the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, leading to Washington’s first division title since 1979.

After two nights off in beautiful Los Angeles, the Wizards returned to the court against the lowly Lakers.  With only nine games left, the teams were facing complete opposite realities.  

The Lakers, losers of 15 of 17 games since the All-Star break, are scouting their young talent, and positioning themselves for a top three pick in this year’s NBA Draft.  

Meanwhile, Washington, coming off a great win on Saturday in Cleveland, had its eyes set clinching the division for the first time in 38 years, and inching closer to a 50 win season.

As a quick aside, the last time Washington won its division, Magic Johnson was preparing to face Larry Bird in the NCAA National Championship game.  The team has come a long way.

The second of a five game road trip, this game had all the writings of a classic #SoWizards trap game.  The Wizards had just beat the defending NBA champions, and have three games left on the trip, all against playoff teams.

Washington came out fast, looking like a well rested team, but unlike the win over Cleveland, fell back into poor habits routinely.  Still, the Wizards prevailed in the end, and the fans who stayed up until almost 1AM ET were treated to a bevy of great celebration memes and videos.

1st Half: Strong Start, Poor Finish

The Wizards maintained their momentum out the gate, showing dominance on both sides of the ball.  Wall was dominating – shooting, passing, and dunking.  

Otto Porter was 3-3 in the first quarter, before going on to make his first 7 shots of the game.  The team got out to a quick 26-15 lead on this alley-oop from Wall to Beal.  

That was the last time the Wizards had complete control of the game until about one minute left in the game.  

The Lakers responded by upping the defensive effort, pushing the pace, and hitting outside shots.  

Washington had 24 points in the first 8 minutes of the game, and closed the last 4 minutes of the first quarter by scoring only 3 points.  

Other areas that have troubled the team lately included allowing offensive rebounds, and not fighting hard enough for loose balls.  

This lack of effort led to many open threes, and rebounds to quick put backs.  

The second quarter was better, with the Washington Wizards holding a lead for most of the first period.  

But with 4 minutes left the Lakers put on another quick run, and ended the half leading by 3 .

It was pretty obvious going into the half that the bench unit didn’t have the right level of focus and intensity needed.  The bench unit combined to shoot 2-12 in the first half, and its level of play must have been discussed at halftime, because many players noted the poor play during postgame interviews.

Would the halftime talk help?

2nd Half: Poor Start, Strong Finish

The second half was almost an exact opposite to what we saw in the first half.  The starters couldn’t build a lead coming out of halftime, and in fact saw LA take a quick 9 point lead before going up by 16 with 3 minutes left.

In fact, for the entirety of the third quarter, the Lakers only missed one shot.  

They shot 15/16, almost 94%.  

The Wizards had a few possessions in a row with good offensive execution, however, it was all for nothing, as the Lakers simply did not miss.  

The one missed shot came on the team’s first possession of the quarter, meaning it made the last 15 shots attempted.

Washington looked dead in the water to most of the fans in attendance, and watching on TV, the third quarter performance quickly led to discussion of whether I should continue to watch or get a full night’s sleep.

As true Washington Wizards fans will note, though, the team has made a living coming back from large deficits on the West coast, having beaten Sacramento and Portland after large deficits earlier this month.  Thus, losing by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, it still felt like the Wizards had to be favored.

Washington showed many of the exceptional qualities in the fourth that were evident early in the first quarter, and against the Cavaliers.

The bench took the challenge to heart, erasing the deficit rather quickly, and by the time John Wall entered the game, the team was only down by four points, 97-101.  After some back and forth play, Washington finally tied the game at 104-104 with just over 3 minutes left.  From then on, the Wizards outscored the 15-5.  

In addition to Wall’s electrifying play, Beal had a great drive for a reverse layup, and a three point play.  

Kelly Oubre Jr. was also huge, as he took on the responsibility of defending D’Angelo Russell, who had 22 points in the first three quarters.

Division Title

Washington started the west coast portion of its five game road trip on the right foot, and although there was uneven play, the team did enough to win.  

This was especially astounding considering the Lakers made 15 straight shots at one point, and the team could have splintered.

Instead, everyone who played in the fourth quarter provided excellent play, and helped the team gain a win and clinch its first division title in 38 years.  

Not a single player on the team was alive in 1979, and only a handful of players in the league were.  Many franchises don’t celebrate this feat, but this was one important checkmark on a fantastic season to this point.  The players seem genuinely excited, but have also been grounded in realizing that this is not the ultimate goal.

Washington is now 46-28 and needs to win four of its last eight games to mark a 50 win season.  

The playoffs start in just over two weeks, and once we reach that point, 16 wins will mark the team’s ultimate goal.

Up next, the Wizards head back to Staples Center to play the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.