Rare Bright Spots From The Bench In L.A.
Back in D.C. from vacation, and carrying an unfulfilled pseudo promise to find somewhere in New Orleans to watch Sunday’s Wizards-Lakers game (I said screw it and went to a place where I knew the food would be good … the Acme Oyster Company. Sure, a little touristy, but the food was still awesome, and the GF and I sat at the oyster bar where we were repeatedly slipped extra freshly shucked oysters … so no complaints there), I’m ready to jump full-on into the remaining 14 games on the schedule, starting with tonight’s home match-up against the Charlotte Bobcats. Hopefully the Wizards will either get a win this evening or tomorrow in Indiana so as not to tie the longest losing steak in franchise history at 13 games, achieved once in ’94-95 under Jim Lynam and once in ’66-67 as the Baltimore Bullets under Gene Shue.
But to recap the last game against the Lakers, we have a guest post from someone who did watch it. Below are the observations of Carter Bryant, a freelance sports journalist from the Baton Rouge area who is currently interning for Sirius/XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C.
Actually, one quick note first. Yesterday the WaPost’s Michael Lee reported that Gilbert Arenas’ mother recently passed away. Man, tough year for that guy. I couldn’t imagine being abandoned by my mother, and if I would even talk to her later in life given the opportunity. Gilbert at one point sounded like he wanted to reconnect with her after one chance encounter, but opted to at least put it off until his playing days are over. Now it makes one think … don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially when it comes to family and friends.
The Los Angeles Lakers are clearly a far better team than the Washington Wizards. But the way the Wizards fought their way back to only lose by seven after being down by as many as 28 points has to be recognized at the end of a rough four-game road trip.
There wasn’t too much the Wizards could do to stop the Lakers in the first half, offensively and defensively. The defending champions took advantage of their size early by getting the ball to Pau Gasol, who scored 10 points in the first quarter. In the second, Kobe Bryant took over by scoring 20 points against four different defenders.
But if there was a “best way” to beat the Lakers, it would be to match their physicality with pressure defense, forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition, which is what the Wizards successfully did in the second half.
The Wizards outscored the Lakers 59-40 in the second half mostly because Flip Saunders’ squad took care of the basketball. In the first half, Washington committed 11 turnovers that led to 17 Los Angeles points, compared to just five turnovers for the Lakers. In the second half, the men in blue only coughed up the ball twice while the Lakers did 13 times.
The second half energy came from three bench players who really stood out:
Young provided instant offense for the Wizards, reminding me of Denver Nuggets sixth-man J.R. Smith.
Nick played one of his best games this season, leading the Wizards in scoring with 22 points while going 7-11 from the field. Out of those who played at least 20 minutes for the Wiz, Young was the only one who ended the game with a positive plus/minus at plus-seven.
Young shot the basketball exceptionally well, especially when he played off the screens of Andre Blatche and Al Thornton. The third year player out of USC was also smart with the ball and displayed more patience than usual.
But was it just because Young was back in SoCal that he stepped his game to another level? He scored 18 points on 7-11 shooting against the Lakers in L.A. last season and 27 points on 10-16 shooting against the purple and gold at the Staples Center in his rookie season.
If there was a player who played harder than Singleton on Sunday Night, point him out to me. Singleton did as much as he possibly could against the Lakers front line, and was undoubtedly the best defender against Pau Gasol on the night.
In the second half, Singleton gave Gasol many different defensive looks, important to do against a guy who might have the best post moves in the NBA. Singleton fronted him, forced him outside the lane and was very physical with the Spanish star.
After a career-high 15 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, Singleton grabbed seven hard-earned rebounds where he had to box out and position himself perfectly to snare the ball beyond the long arms of Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Although Singleton is second in the league in foul-out disqualifications, his six fouls in 27 minutes against Los Angeles could be deceiving. The Lakers are currently second in the league in opponent free-throw attempts allowed per game (22.0), or in other words, “getting the calls.” And against the Wizards, there were plenty of questionable calls.
Gee was signed to his second 10-day contract last Thursday and might earn himself a spot on the roster for the rest of the season when it’s up.
Gee was very active when on the floor. Though he played just over seven minutes, a couple of things stood out to me, starting with his movement on the offensive end.
In the first half, the Wizards failed to effectively move the basketball and move without the basketball in their half court offensive sets. Artest is one of the best one-one defenders in the league and nobody plays smarter help defense than Bryant. To neutralize their skills, you must move the ball.
When Gee checked in for the first time with 3:21 left in the third, he immediately made cuts to the basket that seemingly no other Wizard had been making. On the Wizards’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Gee’s cut to the hoop led to an easy layup and an And-1 opportunity, also thanks to an assist from Andray Blatche. A later cut led to an opportunity, but Gee’s shot was blocked by Gasol.
He showed no fear in taking the basketball to the tin as he tried to blow past Kobe a few times off the dribble. The one time it worked, Gee ran into another Gasol roadblock.
The Wizards as a team had only one aggressive move to rim in the first half … Shaun Livingston’s surprising double-clutch two-hand dunk, also on video below.
Gee also played tenacious defense and attacked the goal with reckless abandon for rebounds. His intense play rubbed off on his teammates. Better movement without the basketball and constant drives to the rim helped get them back into the game.
The author of the post, Carter Bryant, can be reached at CarterthePower@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterthePower.