[Kobe Bryant looks to discover more about Sam Cassell - photo: Adam McGinnis]
How does one evaluate a performance like the Washington Wizards gave in a 103-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night? They didn’t play their worst, but weren’t even in sight of the perfect game they would have needed to beat the reigning champs. Washington did their best to fight, but continued to make the same exact mistakes that fans should sadly be becoming immune to now. Each key defensive gaffe became mundane, blending in with the others.
Already severely out-manned with no Andray Blatche, John Wall and Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian went down about five minutes into the game with just about the same injury to the same knee. That’s when the Washington Post’s Michael Lee invoked the ‘Curse O’ Les Boulez’ on Twitter. Great.
Lesser than a tale of two halves, it was a tale of two quarters, the first and the second. The Wizards “hung around” in the first quarter, moving the ball well (7 assists, 11 field-goals, 0 turnovers) and playing aggressive defense. Of course, that aggressiveness combined with the aura of a champion that seems to possess referees pinned the Wizards for 10 fouls — although some of those should certainly be credited to bad defensive positioning. After the game, Al Thornton also denoted a couple early call against him as “cheap.” Pretty much what you can expect when you have to guard Kobe Bryant and his ability to draw fouls. Watching the referees pay meticulous attention to Kobe’s presence with their whistles is akin to walking by a construction site behind of bevy of Hooters waitresses.
Gilbert Arenas went 1-6 from the field to open the game, but he also had six assists as the Wizards took a 24-22 lead after one quarter. Arenas finished the game with 11 points on 5-15 shooting, dipping his field-goal percentage on the season to .392. The first quarter play that epitomized the night’s match-up happened late in the period when Andrew Bynum powered through Kevin Seraphin’s well-positioned chest on his way to the basket. Seraphin is a big dude, no question he sets the toughest screens on the Wizards, but he was reduced to mere flesh in the way by Bynum.
The second quarter was vastly different with the Lakers out-scoring the Wizards 35-22. Los Angeles played like a team that knew it could get to the free-throw line at will against a weaker opponent, going 9-10 from the stripe as a team. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom dominated the lesser experienced with 16 combined points on 5-5 from the field and 6-6 from the free-throw line. It was an exemplary display of post positioning, footwork and passing from Gasol in particular, who had four assists in the quarter to go along with his eight points. One would hope that JaVale McGee was taking notes while getting worked, but likely not. Nick Young did come off the bench to score 12 points in the second quarter for Washington, but that was on 5-9 shooting. Shannon Brown more efficiently negated Young’s tally with 12 points of his own on 4-6 shooting, helping the Lakers to a 57-46 lead at the half.
You may hear tales about Kobe’s 16-point third quarter run, including when he back-cut Thornton for a lob dunk with no weak-side help defense — a play seemingly drawn up by Phil Jackson solely to get the Laker-heavy D.C. crowd entertained and going. But Kobe’s theatrics, in the form of an efficient 24 points on 7-13 shooting in 24 minutes on the night, only served as the icing on an already baked cake.
Meanwhile, the Wizards don’t even possess the style of pretty icing, they’re simply trying to find some batter for substance.