Wizards and Lakers Both Struggling to Salvage Sour Season

Washington Wizards LeBron James Jeff Green (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards LeBron James Jeff Green (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The NBA season is winding down, and for some teams it can’t come soon enough. Tonight, two of the league’s more disappointing seasons meet head on in Los Angeles.

A few months ago there was a lot of hope around the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards. On the West Coast, LA was welcoming the world’s greatest player to their already promising group of young stars. Back in the nation’s capital Washington was celebrating his exodus from the Eastern Conference, as well as the arrival of their own multi-time all-star in Dwight Howard.

However, things haven’t quite gone according to plan.

In their Summer predictions, ESPN had both teams entering the playoffs as 6 seeds. Projected records of 44-38 for Washington and 46-36 for Los Angeles would be major improvements over the previous years. Yet here we are in late March and both teams are 11th in their conference. Playoff hopes are dead.

Sidelined Stars

The parallels on these disaster seasons can’t be ignored. Both teams lost their starting point guard and haven’t been able to manage without him. In Washington, the truly irreplaceable John Wall hasn’t played since December 26, giving the Wizards only 32 games before having to call it a year. Out west, they’ve been missing Lonzo Ball since January 19 and have officially shut him down for the remainder of the season.

These haven’t been the only two major injuries each team’s had to face, either. Dwight Howard has played in just nine games this season, far from what the Wizards expected when they offered him a two-year $11 Million deal. It doesn’t look likely that he’ll return for any of the team’s final games.

While not quite as serious of an injury as Howard’s, LeBron James‘ groin strain proved extremely costly for the Lakers. In the 17 games he missed between December 27 and January 29, the Lakers went just 6-11. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end.

For the Wizards, this season will be their first losing one since Bradley Beal‘s rookie year in 2012-13. They went 29-53. The Lakers, on the other hand, are in the midst of their sixth-straight losing season. They haven’t finished with a winning record since they went 45-37 in 2012-13.

Don’t Hate the Players

So who’s to blame?

It’s hard to put this season’s failures solely on the players. At least in the Wizards’ case. Beal has been playing at an All-NBA level, and Wall’s injury is something you really can’t plan for.

It could be the coaching, though. Questions about Scott Brooksplayer development, rotations, and the team’s defensive ineptitude have some wondering whether a new coach is the biggest on-court change they need. For what it’s worth, Brooks is under contract through the 2020-21 season. Buying him out would cost nearly $14 Million.

Most fans, though, are still blaming Ernie Grunfeld and the terrible roster construction that’s ultimately gotten the Wizards into their current mess. His sins in Washington are well documented.

Likewise, Lakers fans are turning on their decision makers. He’s still there now, but it would be shocking if Luke Walton were the Lakers’ head coach next season. All signs point to someone new. And as for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, things don’t seem to be going so well for them these days, either. But for ignoring the coaches and surrounding LeBron with JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley, they probably deserve all the hate they’re getting.

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There won’t be much on the line for either team during tonight’s game at the Staples Center. Lottery odds, maybe. Otherwise, it’s just two teams whose seasons have flamed out in surprisingly similar and spectacular fashion.

The Wizards will start this road-trip amidst a four-game losing streak. The Lakers have lost five of their last six.