Easy Like Sunday Evening in Kobe's Twilight— Wizards at Lakers, DC Council 73 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Easy Like Sunday Evening in Kobe’s Twilight— Wizards at Lakers, DC Council 73

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Updated: March 28, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Lakers, Game 73, March 27, 2016, from Los Angeles, via Lucas Hubbard (@LucasHubbard1).

That game was … nothing to get excited about.

One term that’s been popularized in NBA coverage is the idea of the “schedule loss,” a game that demands a Herculean effort to win due to travel concerns, undermanned-ness, and opponent quality. Extending this idea to its corollary, some games just line up well for a team. While wins aren’t guaranteed, the math is so bleak elsewhere, the lead-in so underwhelming, and the remaining outlook so daunting, that a lack of victory would be nothing but pathetic.

Which brings us to Wizards-Lakers on Sunday night, a game for which Vegas had Washington marked as nine-point favorites, a tangible, statistical concession that this Lakers team is A) tanking, B) complete excrement, or C) both. While not everything played in Washington’s favor—newly-minted starter Markieff Morris was out, for example—enough factors were in play (net-negative Kobe Bryant was starting) that the odds were tipped on behalf of the away team. It seemed that, barring a crazy Saturday night precipitating a “sunglasses-in-shootaround”-level hangover, the Wizards had the game in hand.

And, for the majority of the first half, the Wizards played like they knew this. Four-plus minutes in, the Lakers—a team 50 games out of first place in its division—already had a 16-4 lead. For the briefest of moments, it seemed that the Wizards, desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive, were going to lay an egg in the most winnable game remaining on their schedule. Then John Wall remembered he’s a top-10 player, the Wizards allowed the Lakers to display their own hilarious ineptitude (see Ryan-Kelly-Dribbling-Off-Own-Foot.gif), and the end was a comfortable if unrewarding 101-88 victory.

I can’t spin this game as much more than that. The Lakers really run the gamut from total tire fire to excitingly-if-briefly-competent, but—having already spent their upset on the Warriors a few weeks back—the former was on display much more on Sunday. As a team, they shot below 40 percent and only 25 percent from beyond the arc; they also committed 18 turnovers. It’s great that the Wizards didn’t get lit up by Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr., but it’s hard to deliver praise that’s any fainter. These Lakers could turn any five warm bodies on the opposing side into the ‘04 Pistons.

What is intriguing—in any Wizards game—is the offensive side of things. When the ball movement transcends its marginal status, and the shot selection is somewhat north of highly questionable, then the team can (in theory) score pretty well. However, there weren’t too many compelling signs on that front last night: the Nene/Gortat frontcourt delivered its expected mediocre returns, the only surprise being that Nene attempted his third 3-pointer of the season (a miss). Bradley Beal struggled in the most passive, dismaying way possible; Otto Porter took advantage of some comically-disinterested defense from Bryant during a brief spurt in the third; the bench (covered further down) did enough.

The one redeeming factor of the Wizards’ season has been seeing John Wall—neutered by a high-school-level offensive scheme and unsupported by his in-over-their-heads teammates—take over games. He did that time and again in the first half on Sunday, blowing past the turnstile team of Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell with ease and taking the cover off the defense with his outside shooting. His one-man 10-0 run in the first quarter kept the apathetic Wizards close; his return in the second quarter helped fuel an 18-2 run and put Washington in position to coast post-halftime. It’s not great that the Wizards play uninspired ball from the get-go (even as they remind themselves to play desperate in conversations with the media), but when it leads to Mad John Wall demanding calls from the refs and playing like the-best-player-on-the-court that he is, it’s almost worth it.

M.V.P.

John Wall didn’t play a perfect game by any measures Sunday (7 TOs, 1 technical foul), but his B-plus is a damn good B-plus. His 22 points and 13 assists in a relatively brief 33 minutes were necessary, especially as 17 of those points occurred during the game’s rocky start in the first half; his game-high plus-18 rating was unsurprising.

Again, not to dismiss his performance against the Lakers, but the most important question is his ability to sustain a high level of play in the final nine games of the season. In the two home losses, he shot sub-.400 from the field; Sunday, he was north of .550. It’s unfair to put everything on Wall, but given the myriad circumstances plaguing this team—primarily, injuries and inconsistent play—anything less than his best will be insufficient.

L.V.P.

There are few things more frustrating in a basketball game than a “shooter” who can’t shoot, and for one game, that was Bradley Beal. The only Wizards starter with a negative plus/minus, Beal struggled both from the field (1-5) and—more inexcusably—from the free throw line (1-4). Having come off a hot performance versus the Timberwolves, there was hope of a sustained fiery streak for the sharpshooter. Instead, his recent scoring outputs carry a Roulette-randomness to them: 25 points, 7, 26, and now 4 versus the Lakers.

The silver lining is that an odd number of games remain, so hopefully he’ll deliver five good ones and only four duds.

X-Factor.

With the absence of Markieff “Chief Keef” Morris, someone else had to step up. Well, not really, as the opponent was the Los Angeles Lakers. But still, an uptick in performance from someone in the frontcourt would have been appreciated, and to some degree, J.J. Hickson provided that.

Yes, I realize that after my reliance on plus/minus differential for Wall and Beal, I should point out that Hickson was a team-worst minus-5 on the night. The exciting part is that, had you said Hickson would be merely minus-5 in 20 minutes prior to the game, I wouldn’t have believed you. He hadn’t played in four of the last five games, and hadn’t made a field goal in six, but Sunday night he was on fire. Hickson stabilized a bench unit whose offense was coming from increasingly disparate sources, and his 14 points in the second half helped both maintain breathing room for Washington and allow the starters a tad more rest in the fourth quarter. He drew fouls on six separate possessions; when he wasn’t fouled, he scored, going 5-for-5 from the field. His 4-for-12 free throw shooting was painful, certainly, but having entered the game with low expectations, Hickson’s performance was a nice surprise.

The Nene/Hickson front court, which was trotted out for much of the fourth quarter, likely doesn’t hold much water. If the Lakers had a stretch 4 or 5 (and no, Ryan Kelly doesn’t count), the Wizards could have been exposed defensively; instead, the two bigs were able to bunker down and clog up passing lanes (they combined for four steals). It’s unclear to me how Hickson fits in the larger scheme of things, with or without Morris. Maybe he’s a super-smallball 5? Or a deploy-in-case-of-offensive-emergency wrecking ball? It doesn’t appear that the Wizards, for all of their schematic bluster, have any long-term plan; for the short-run of the next nine games, though, any little boost helps.

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Lucas Hubbard
Lucas joined TAI in 2015 as a late convert to the Cult of Randy Wittman. He holds many strong, ill-informed opinions about the NBA, most of which center on the belief that Mo Speights is an All-Star. Lucas lives in DC, where he has chanted "Ot-to Por-ter" at 9 consecutive Wizards games.