The Washington Wizards, after a rough patch of a few games, demolished the Miami Heat Monday for their second win in as many games. Now they host the always interesting, rarely this bad Los Angeles Lakers as they look to make it three in a row.
Nene's out tonight so the Wizards won't be at full strength, but this is as close to an easy victory as they're going to come across when the season is this new. That said, there are reasons beyond simply wanting to see the Wizards lay the smack down on a bad team. The Lakers, as has historically been the case, are the attraction tonight, and die-hard hoop fans should get a kick out of this one.
For starters, Kobe Bryant is jacking shots like it's 2006, shooting more than 22 times per game and making less than 40% of his shots. Kobe's return from an Achilles and knee problems is impressive in its own right, and that he's been able to play effectively despite quite possibly the most poorly constructed roster in the league is a testament to just how special he is as a talent. Similar injuries have ended countless careers and Kobe's at an age and in a situation in which it would be easy, maybe even preferable, for him to call it a career.
As interesting as Kobe's season as been, the rest of the team is also worth checking out. The return of Nick Young to D.C is always a hoot. Jeremy Lin is quietly having a pretty decent year. And best/worst of all, a roster with maybe three guys who could be considered above average shooters for their positions and a bunch of big men who can't shoot or pass has the ninth most efficient offense in the NBA on a per possession basis.
Somehow the Lakers are making it work, at least on one end of the court, and the team's volume-based approach to offense - give it to Kobe for a mid-range jumper and crash the offensive glass like a mad man - is a stark contrast to pretty much every other good offensive squad in the league.
Where and when? The game is at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center and can be watched on Comcast.
Who's out? Nene and Martell Webster for Washington. Los Angeles is missing Julius Randle, Xavier Henry, Steve Nash and Ryan Kelly.
What are they good at? Offense in general, offensive rebounding in particular. Los Angeles leads the league in offensive rebounds and has a few youngsters, most notably Ed Davis and Jordan Hill, who are good at converting these boards into garbage buckets. Despite the team's lack of a true point guard and distributor, Davis is making 63% of his field goal attempts while Jordan Hill is hovering around 50%. These guys aren't just getting lucky with a few jumpers or anything like that. Quite the contrary, they both know their limits and are doing an excellent job of cutting to the rim for dunks once Kobe or Lin disrupts an opposing defense and scoring off of put backs when they crash the glass. When a team lacks an efficient first option, a position the Lakers will be in until/if Kobe gets back to 100%, these little pockets of high percentage offense become invaluable.
What are they bad at? Defense. Los Angeles lacks a true center, instead playing two combo bigs like Boozer and Hill together on a regular basis, so their ability to protect the rim is already poor. Worse still, none of the bigs are comfortable chasing stretch fours around the perimeter. The real kicker, though, is that as weak as the big men are, the perimeter players might be even worse. No one on the team other than Wesley Johnson can be counted on to play above average defense for an entire game. As a result, not only can perimeter players get anywhere on the court they want, they don't have to worry about a big man properly rotating or arriving in time to help. Thus, John Wall should have a field day tonight.
Who's going to win? I'm going with the Lakers. SIKE, they suck - Wizards all the way. Wall should have one of his better assist games of the season, although turnovers could become an issue on account of Lin and Bryant's ball hawking. Washington could also lose ground when Drew Gooden is on the court; Gooden is a good rebounder but tends to not box out very well and could allow the Laker bigs to have huge games on the glass if he plays extended minutes.