By: Jeremy Hyman
The Wizards west coast road trip makes a stop in L.A. tonight as the Wizards take on the Lakers (10:30 pm | TV: CSN | Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500 AM). The Wizards fell, 102-96, to the Lakers back on December 14th at Verizon Center.
The big storyline of the game comes from the opposition as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are both expected to return to the lineup after going through an "intense" practice on Thursday. Bryant has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, while Gasol has missed the last 20 games with a foot injury. Needless to say, if they both go, it gives the Lakers a big boost on both ends of the floor.
The Wizards have some injury concerns as well, as Bradley Beal sprained his left ankle again on Wednesday night and his status is uncertain for tonight. Emeka Okafor missed Wednesday night's game with the flu, while A.J. Price was out with a groin injury and both are questionable for tonight.
The Wizards are coming off a win in Phoenix where they got back to their principles on defense and held the Suns to just 79 points. They will need that kind of defensive intensity tonight against a high powered offensive team in the Lakers. With Bryant and Gasol expected back, the Lakers should have all of their options back and can score from both inside and out.
After a busy off-season that saw the Lakers acquire both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the team struggled in the first half of the season and they tried to find their identity. They found themselves outside of a playoff spot for much of that time, but have started to gel over the past eight weeks as they are 19-8 over their last 27 games. They now sit as the eight seed in the west and each game is pivotal as they make their push for the playoffs. Bryant has become more of a distributor over this time as he is now up to 5.8 apg, more than a full assist higher than last season. He is still third in the NBA in scoring at 27.1 ppg and he will be the focal point of the Lakers offense as the Wizards set up their defensive gameplan. Dwight Howard has also picked it up of late, attaining double-doubles in eight straight games and becoming the dominant force down low that he was expected to be. If Okafor can't go, it will be a mix of Jason Collins, Kevin Seraphin, and Nene who take on the task of slowing down Howard and trying to keep him off the glass.
The last time these two teams met, Cartier Martin led the Wizards with 21 points, but they fell 102-96 at Verizon Center. The Wizards played that game without John Wall, Trevor Ariza, A.J. Price, and Trevor Booker, and while Price may still be out, the others will be back tonight which should give the Wizards a chance when they enter a hostile Staples Center tonight.
The action kicks off at 10:30.
John Wall has been on tear over his last six games, averaging 23.3 points, 9.5 assists, and 4.7 rebounds leading the Wizards to a 4-2 record. Wall could explode tonight, as he goes up against a man not known for his defense in Steve Nash. The Lakers will likely use double teams to try and slow Wall down, but if he is able to find the open man, he could have a big night leading the Wizards offensive attack.
While Nash is not much of a defender, he is still a very capable offensive player and is one of the smarter point guards in the league. With Bryant and Gasol expected back, watch for Nash to be the orchestrator of the Lakers offense as he spreads the ball around and gives everyone their touches.
In the clip below, Wall hangs in the air for the swat.
In the clip below, Wall gets the steal and the finish.