D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards vs Lakers, Game 14
Last December when the Los Angeles Lakers came to the Verizon Center, Kobe was healthy (and shot 9-for-29), Dwight Howard was struggling as a one-year rental in L.A., Pau Gasol was hurt, and Jodie Meeks stole the show by scoring 24 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line, helping the Lakers to a 102-96 victory. The Wizards were without John Wall that night due to a stress injury, Bradley Beal had yet to find his shooting stroke, and Cartier Martin led the way with 21 points. The loss dropped the Wizards to 3-17, while the Lakers’ victory gave them a 10-14 record.
A little less than a year later, Kobe is out with an Achilles injury (but now practicing), Dwight Howard (Houston) and Cartier Martin (Atlanta) are in new uniforms, John Wall is healthy, Bradley Beal (more on him later) has been playing at an All-Star level, and Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks are scuffling to keep the Lakers relevant in Kobe’s absence. At 7-7 (with a three-game win streak) the Lakers actually have a better record than they did last year at this time. And while the Wizards’ record at 5-8 is an improvement from last year’s start, it is still disappointing considering the team’s playoff aspirations.
Teams: Wizards vs. Lakers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, DC
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Wizards favored by 5.5 points
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Q #1: The Lakers are currently 7-7, 11th in the Western Conference. Is that better, worse, or about where you expected them to be at this point? When and if Nash, Kaman, and a less-than-100-percent Kobe Bryant return, what is the ceiling for this team?
@forumbluegold: The Lakers’ record now is about where I’d hoped they’d be. I’ve said that if the team could play .500 ball with Kobe out, it would be close to a best-case scenario, so the fact that they’re only a game off that pace with the schedule they’ve played—they’ve already played the Warriors twice, the Spurs, the Clippers, and the Grizzlies with two back-to-backs mixed in—I’m happy in the big picture. In terms of their ceiling, I wrote in the preseason that I thought this group could top out with a win total between 45-48 wins, and I still think that’s a level they could reach should several factors go their way. If Kobe can approximate what he’s been in the last several years, I think this team can be a problem for their opponents on most nights.
As an aside, I’m no longer expecting much from Steve Nash nor, though to a much lesser extent, Chris Kaman. The combination of Nash’s age and the nature of his injuries are very concerning and to think he’ll overcome them this year and be productive is not something that can be counted on. As for Kaman, I think he’s a fine player who can still be a solid contributor as the team’s third big man playing next to either Pau Gasol or Jordan Hill. However, I think as the season evolves, the Lakers will start to play smaller and that Kaman may find his role diminishing.
Q #2: I would like to blame Pau Gasol’s slow start on Kobe’s absence, but even if Kobe were playing, he’d be publicly admonishing Pau for being too timid. In your Lakers/Warriors recap, you noted that Pau seemed to play better with four days rest, so is he playing too many minutes? If not, why is he starting so slowly this season?
@forumbluegold: Pau’s not playing too many minutes, so I don’t think that’s an issue. I think what we’re seeing with Pau is a player who has become more reliant on his jumper than he was when he was at his peak. That has created much more variance in his offensive performances and will result in many more nights where he simply doesn’t look like the same player. Against the Warriors, Pau was hitting his jumper and that led to a more complete offensive game where he used the threat of that shot to create more post-up and drive opportunities. Over the season, I expect that correlation to continue in that he’ll be much better when his midrange jumper is falling and will frustrate when it’s not.
Getting back to the minutes question, however, it’s not that he’s playing too much now but more that he played too much in previous seasons and that has clearly caught up to him. Pau was never a top tier athlete, but he was underrated in that he had very good quickness and an amazing first step for a man his size. After multiple seasons of playing 3,000-plus minutes, making deep playoff runs, and playing during the summer for Spain, whatever explosiveness Pau did have has been greatly diminished. That doesn’t mean he’s washed up, but it does mean he’ll be more up and down than he was in his prime and that he will not be the defender he once was.
Q #3: Nick Young spent four and a half seasons with the Washington Wizards. When he was at his best, he was a confident, prolific scorer (who didn’t pass) and an average defender. At his worst, his poor shooting led to bad body language, poor defense, he still didn’t pass, and he’d find himself sitting on the bench for long stretches of time. Does that sound familiar, or are you seeing a different Nick Young in Los Angeles?
@forumbluegold: I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Nick Young this season. I knew his reputation well and had my concerns when he was signed, even though it was only for the minimum. But besides a blip of struggles to start the regular season, I’ve seen a guy who is playing hard, trying to do the right things defensively, and buying into his role as a scoring threat off the bench. He’s still too confident in his ability to shake his man and hit long jumpers, but he’s mixed in some drives to the rim and some nice curls off the ball to score inside to complement the flashy play he brings in isolation on the wing. Does he still have lapses defensively and frustrate with his shot selection? Of course—a leopard won’t change his spots. But he really does seem energized by playing in his hometown and for the Lakers, and that’s led to more positives than negatives so far this year.
Q #4: Are the Wizards cursed?
I initially finished this post at 10 p.m. on Monday (during halftime of Monday Night Football), and my original questions was, “When will the Wizards’ bench be strong again?” I went on and on about how Trevor Ariza’s return to the starting lineup would send Martell Webster back to a second unit that had been struggling mightily (15 total points in the last two games). I even used Michael Lee’s report about the ghost of Otto Potter and Chris Singleton finally returning to practice on Monday as an indicator that the Wizards’ bench (Al Harrington’s creaky knees notwithstanding) was closer to being at full strength. Of course, it was uncertain what a Wizards’ bench at full strength was truly capable of, but it certainly beats playing Garrett Temple, a newly-confident Jan Vesely and the supremely unconfident Eric Maynor every night.
Then I woke up in the middle of the night and see this tweet by Bill Simmons:
More bummer injury news: hearing Bradley Beal reaggravated last spring's leg injury, and that the Wiz are worried he'll miss extended time.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 26, 2013
Shortly thereafter I clicked on yet another Michael Lee report, and he confirmed that Beal complained of soreness in his lower leg on Monday, and that his status for tonight’s game against the Lakers is uncertain. According to the same report, Garrett Temple or Martell Webster will start at shooting guard against the Lakers if Beal cannot start, which will further weaken the Wizards’ bench—again, unless Al Harrington makes a surprising comeback. [UPDATE: the Wizards have declared Beal our for two weeks, at least, with a “stress injury to his proximal right fibula.”]
This bit of bad news comes on the heels of John Wall winning the Eastern Conference player of the week, and the Wizards winning three out of their last four games. If Beal misses extended time, the Wizards will need every bit of Wall
‘s per game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.1 steals, along with solid play from Nene, Ariza and company, to remain a potential playoff contender. Washington may be forced to once again judge their season on what-ifs, as opposed to cheering their first playoff appearance in five years, and it’ll be hard not to think that this franchise is cursed. For now, Beal is in limbo, and the Wizards have to find a way to beat the Lakers. One game at a time.
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