Preview: Wizards open back-to-back Monday night against Lakers
The Wizards continue their West Coast road trip on Monday night, taking on the Lakers at 10:00 P.M. in the first game of an all-L.A. back-to-back. Washington has won four straight and is coming off a win over Portland on Saturday while Los Angeles looks to bounce back from a loss to Miami.
STAPLES Center | 10:00 P.M. | NBCSW & NBATV | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Bradley Beal, G – Garrison Mathews, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Moe Wagner
Lakers: G – Wesley Matthews, G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, F – LeBron James, F – Kyle Kuzma, C – Marc Gasol
Wizards: Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Ish Smith (right quadriceps strain – out)
Lakers: Kostas Antetokounmpo (right knee patellar tendinitis – probable), Anthony Davis (right calf strain – out), LeBron James (left ankle sprain – probable), Kyle Kuzma (back strain – probable), Markieff Morris (right ankle sprain – probable), Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols – out)
Wizards 4-0 since starting lineup change
The Wizards’ recent run coincides directly with head coach Scott Brooks’ shuffling of the team’s starting lineup before last week’s game against the Celtics. For the first time this season, Washington started Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Garrison Mathews, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner alongside one another against Boston and have won every game since. The lineup was the Wizards’ 17th unique starting group of the season, due to a combination of health and safety protocols, injuries, rest games for veterans and Brooks’ efforts to identify the team’s best rotation. While the sample size is small, it appears he may have found it – or at least the lineup the allows the rotation as a whole to be the most successful. Starting Mathews and Wagner alongside one another brings an energy and tenacity to a group with plenty of scoring ability and moves Davis Bertans back to the reserve role he excels in. Among five-man lineups that have played at least 10 minutes together in the last four games, the starting group ranks third with a 34.5 net rating. The Wizards’ best five-man group in that time is Raul Neto, Beal, Bertans, Deni Avdija and Robin Lopez, registering a 63.9 net rating in 15 minutes on the court together.
Washington’s center-by-committee approach adopted after Thomas Bryant’s season-ending knee injury has been more apparent than ever in the last four games. Wagner, Lopez and Alex Len each bring a different skillset to the table and have had their own moments to shine in recent wins. Wagner was particularly effective in a fast-paced game against Houston, scoring 15 points on 6-10 (.600) shooting, but struggled in the early going against All-Star starting center Nikola Jokic the following game. Enter Alex Len, who provided the defensive muscle to slow Jokic down and turn that game around. Against the Blazers on Saturday night, Lopez had his turn to make a difference, finishing plus-25 in 28 minutes, recording a double-double and holding his matchups to 0-14 (.000) from the field.
“It’s been a lot of fun, honestly,” Lopez said after Saturday’s win. “The three of us…we’re all pulling for each other whenever the other is one the floor. For me, I love it. In the NBA, you see teams going the opposite (direction), going small. I love that we have three centers.”
Westbrook comfortable, confident as shot comes around
Westbrook’s eighth triple-double of the season, a 27-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist, performance against the Blazers on Saturday night was his third straight and moved him into sole possession of second place on the team’s all-time triple-double list, breaking a tie with John Wall and Wes Unseld. Easy to lose sight of in Westbrook’s stat line was that he shot 11-17 (.647) from the field, his best shooting percentage of the season and his first time shooting above 50.0% since his 41-point game against the Nets on January 31. For Westbrook, the improved shooting is all about sticking to his routine and trusting that the shot would come around. After being hampered by quad and finger injuries early in the season, Westbrook has stressed the importance of patience and standing by what has gotten him to where he is today. Coming out of his best shooting performance of the season, Westbrook wasn’t surprised.
“I made shots I usually make, that’s it,” Westbrook said. “I stayed locked in, stayed in my routine. Every season, I know it’s a long season. I’m a guy that wasn’t to create consistency and get better as the season goes along.”
Lakers looks to end slide with Davis, Schroder out
After a seven-game winning streak from late January to mid-February, the Lakers have now lost two straight and three of their last four games heading into Monday’s matchup with the Wizards. Los Angeles’ struggles have come as star big man Anthony Davis has missed games due to a reaggravation of his right Achilles injury. Davis, who is averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, has not played in the last three games and is not expected to return before the All-Star break in early March. The Lakers have also been without starting point guard Dennis Schroder, who has missed the last two games due to health and safety protocols and will not play against Washington. With Davis and Schroder out of the lineup, LeBron James has neared a triple-double in each of the last two games, averaging 25.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists, though the Lakers have been unable to cross the 100-point threshold in either game.