Last night L.A. basketball fans witnessed the Lakers take down the Washington Wizards, 102-96. It was an important victory for L.A., coming out of a four-game losing slump, but it served as a double-edged sword: Though they avoided the loss, the win looked almost just as bad.
Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center was sold out—apparently there’s a fair amount of Laker love in the District of Columbia—and the atmosphere seemed like that of a small postseason match. The early-season game meant a lot for both teams, as the Wizards, the worst team and offense in the NBA, were hoping to notch win number four, and the Lakers were (still) hoping to get some sort of team chemistry going. In theory (and on paper), the Wizards are the perfect team for the Lakers to practice on—even on the road.
If you watched the game, you know that the Lakers’ six-point victory was not a cakewalk. In fact, it was a bit of a miracle. Here’s how it panned out:
The night started with bad news: Jordan Hill would not play due to back spasms, Pau Gasol and the Steves were still not suiting up, and a rattled Kobe Bryant (also with back spasms) was being tended to with heating pads. Despite roster woes, though, the Lakers got off to an early start, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and pulling out to an early 15-6 lead. The Wizards answered back with their bench, closing the gap to 27-25 with Wizards reserve Cartier Martin running hot.
Finally, the Lakers weren’t playing from behind; at moments it even seemed like Bryant and his squad were orchestrating the pace of the match. But those moments were ephemeral and two few in number, as the Black Mamba finished the night missing 20 of his 29 field goal attempts (charity-stripe trips boosted him to a 30-point stat line) and the Lakers’ offense struggled to widen a “gimme” scoring deficit. Dwight Howard got into foul trouble early on and still isn’t meshing with Bryant—something that must be at least a little bit concerning for the Lakers’ third head coach of the season, Mike D’Antoni.
Poor shooting for the Lakers in the second quarter allowed the Wizards to take a 41-32 lead, but Lakers reserve Jodie Meeks caught fire and played Savior in the second, scoring 12 and helping the L.A. team regain a 58-55 lead at half. Thanks to Meeks’ consistently scrappy play and a floundering Washington offense, the Lakers pulled away in the latter half of the game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that things got dicey again. Jordan Crawford and the Wizards pared a 16-point Laker lead down to five and looked like they had the on-court gumption to put their feet down and play smart basketball. Poor shot selection and a couple lucky breaks let L.A. scrape by.
Considering four of the team’s main players were out (five if you include Bryant’s struggles) and the fact that they hadn’t earned a W in almost half a dozen games, the win is a big one for the Lakers. But you have to scratch your head and wonder how the championship-hopeful team almost lost to the worst team in the NBA.
Some say a win is a win, and that may be true for the record books, but not when you’re looking to seek vengeance over teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. The numbers in the W slot don’t determine who wins championships, strong team chemistry does. For the Lakers to be successful this postseason, D’Antoni and Bryant need to find a way to put all the cogs in the right place. Six-point wins against the Wizards are, in my fan book, unacceptable.
Of note: Despite his less-than-satisfactory shooting on the night, Bryant surpassed John Havlicek in field goals made, taking the ninth overall spot in NBA history. Bryant and the Lakers will face off against a 12-11 Philadelphia ‘76ers squad Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.