Wizards Vs Lakers preview: What's the matter with LA?

Bruce Bennett

Hey, did you know that the Washington Wizards just went .500 on a road trip! The youngsters are getting settled, the veterans are adjusting, and the team's offense even looks a little bit better. Now the team gets to build on their success and get some momentum going ... by playing the Los Angeles Lakers at home, then heading down to Miami for a rematch with the Heat. Ugh.

The Lakers are coming off a humiliating loss to the Knicks and likely has at least some memory of last season's upset at the Verizon Center, so they'll probably bring their best tonight. That said, L.A. is always fun to watch, plus the packed house of vocal Laker fans should add quite a bit to the viewing experience.

Where and When? Tip off is at 7 PM EST at the Verizon Center.

Why Should I Care? It's the Lakers.

Who's Out? Los Angeles will be without Steve Blake and Steve Nash, as well as Pau Gasol. For the Wizards, Trevor Booker, John Wall, A.J. Price and Trevor Ariza will be out.

What Happened the Last Time They Played? Kevin Seraphin happened. The Wizards shocked the world and pulled off a victory, winning 106-101 at home.

Are They Good? That depends entirely on your definition of good. A 9-14 start would be considered a golden age for the Wizards, but the Lakers are treating it like it's a cataclysmic failure. The truth is somewhere in between. LA has a lot of upside, especially if Gasol and Nash can get right, and they still have the point differential of a 13-10 team. That said, they're trying to win a championship with only four decent players, and there's no telling whether or not Mike D'Antoni can make those four key pieces fit.

What Are They Good At? Despite only having two of their key guys at full strength, LA is still third in the NBA in points per possessions on isolation plays and eighth in overall in offensive efficiency, according to MySynergySports.com. In a related story, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and a center in Dwight Howard that commands constant double teams.

What Are They Bad At? You mean other than living up to expectations? Los Angeles' weaknesses are all tied to one thing: no one other than their top four guys is any good. Artest Metta World Peace should in theory be the team's stopper and defensive ace, but he's declined quite a bit in the last few years and is only a marginal player these days (for proof, look at last night's game against the Knicks, in which Carmelo Anthony, the kind of big wing who World Peace used to be able to utterly shut down, scored almost completely at will). Antawn Jamison, a low-efficiency scorer and poor defender, is trying to fill a bench role that would ideally be filled by a three-and-d type. Everyone else on the bench is either a bad player (Devin Ebanks) or a flawed-but-redeemable player who's just not meshing with the team's personnel (Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks).

How's 'Tawn Been? Jamison has had a decent year on paper and is probably Los Angeles' fifth-best player. He's not scoring as much as normal, but he's doing it with more efficiency than he has in years, and his ability to score while rarely dribbling really complements the passing and playmaking of Kobe, Nash and, to a lesser extent, Gasol.

So What Exactly is the Matter With Los Angeles? The front office was born on third base and thinks it hit a triple. Yes, Los Angeles just experienced some bad luck in terms of Nash's injury, Dwight's lack of mobility and Gasol's "lack of toughness." That said, I don't care if it's basketball or life in general, people make their own luck, and how people deal with misfortune says a lot about their character and intelligence. Smart franchises adapt to injuries, as the Bulls have done with Derrick Rose this year, the Spurs do with Manu Ginobli every year and the Lakers did with Andrew Bynum the year they won their first championship. Bad franchises? They make excuses.

The reason LA isn't winning games right now is that the team management just isn't as good as it thinks it is. Despite being able to spend almost unlimited amounts of money and being the NBA's most popular franchise, the Lakers have been unable to acquire cheap backups, role players or even veterans on reasonable contracts *coughArtestcough*. Now that the team is dealing with the injuries and bad luck that tend to come with assembling a team built around guys in their 30s, the blame is being directed at people who are only marginally responsible for the team's struggles. The person responsible for all of this isn't the 32-year-old center miscast as a power forward in an increasingly-small league, nor is it the 2009 Coach of the Year who got fired only five games into the season. The people responsible for the mess that the Lakers are looking like right now are the ones high up in management that have made poor personnel and coaching decisions.

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