USA TODAY Sports
A huge performance by Trevor Ariza carries Washington to first win over Lakers in L.A. since 2006.
Playing against an improving Lakers team in Los Angeles was always going to be a tough match-up for the Wizards, even with a healthy roster. Remove Bradley Beal and Emeka Okafor from the equation, and this probably wasn't a game the Wizards were supposed to win.
That clearly didn't stop this young team from fighting like hell in a stunning 103-100 victory at Staples Center on Friday night.
As frustrating as this team can be to watch at times, particularly when two key starters are sidelined by injuries, one can no longer doubt its desire to compete and win every night. Undermanned on the road against a Lakers team that's improving daily, one easily could have imagined this game turning into a blowout once L.A. got ahead by 18.
That's not really what this Wizards team does, though, getting blown out. They might be one of the ugliest teams in the NBA on offense at times, but defense keeps them close in practically every game, something that happened again Friday.
After a brutal first half on D saw Los Angeles pile up 57 points while shooting 54 percent, the Wizards responded in the second half as Randy Wittman once again worked his halftime magic. You might not love Wittman as a coach, but few guys seem to grasp the whole "halftime adjustments" thing better.
Washington then came out in the second half with a burst of energy, powered by the hot shooting of ex-Laker Trevor Ariza. Behind seven three-pointers and 25 points from Ariza, the Wizards outscored L.A. in the second half, 62-43.
The last time the Wizards beat the Lakers in L.A., they needed a superhuman performance from Gilbert Arenas to do so way back in 2006. With the likes of Jason Collins and Garrett Temple in the starting lineup, it felt like the Wizards would need John Wall to step up in a similar manner to get this win.
Wall didn't quite put up the 60 points that Arenas exploded for back in 2006, but his play Friday was often superlative. Taking advantage of a strong match-up advantage against the Lakers' old-white-Steve point guard duo of Nash and Blake, Wall constantly attacked despite the presence of Dwight Howard, master rim protector.
Actually getting to the rim was tough for Wall -- he made only two trips to the free throw line in the first 47 minutes -- but he continues to flash an improved jumper and his decision-making was superb. Any way you slice it, finishing with 24 points, 16 assists (career-high), six rebounds and just one turnover is a keeper of an effort.
Washington has now won six of its past seven games in arguably its best stretch of the season.
People have often wondered aloud whether the Wizards can be a winning team even with Wall at his best. In recent days, he's shown that's much very the case.