Two championship players make their return for their first game against the Los Angeles Lakers since being dealt away this offseason in a must-win game for both sides on Friday night. The Lakers host the Washington Wizards in the return game for both Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two role players who were crucial in the Lakers’ 2020 championship run.
Both the Lakers and Wizards are on the brink of playoff positioning so this really is a must-win contest for both teams. The Lakers have lost six of seven while Washington has lost four of six. The Lakers are just three games away from falling out of the Play-In Tournament while the Wizards trail Atlanta by one game in the loss column for the final Play-In spot in the East.
As has been the case all season for the Lakers, the most important things in terms of their performance are defense and overall effort. Even though LeBron James struggled shooting in the team’s recent loss to Houston, he still posted a triple-double while Russell Westbrook had his first 30-point game since January.
The Lakers also got excellent outings from Austin Reaves, Malik Monk and the recently signed D.J. Augustin. But the team allowed at least 29 points in every quarter and 19 in the five-minute overtime period.
Even though the Wizards are without star Bradley Beal for the rest of the season, they still have plenty of options who can explode for big games if the Lakers continue their poor defensive effort and chief among them is their former sixth man.
Kuzma is enjoying the best all-around season of his career, averaging 17.2 points along with a career-high 8.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Kuzma has spoken about the clarity of his role with the Wizards and it has shown in his improved play. Likewise, Caldwell-Pope has increased his scoring to 12.3 points while still shooting an excellent 39.1% from 3-point range.
The Wizards also added Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline and he is averaging 22 points and has been on fire from the field in a pair of games with his new team.
Possibly the most important factor for the Lakers in this game will be controlling the paint. The Wizards are one of the best teams in the NBA in points in the paint and do very little damage from 3-point range, so if the Lakers are able to make it difficult to score at the rim, Washington will struggle to generate offense as they don’t do much in transition as well.
In the end, both teams are absolutely desperate for a victory and whichever team plays like it is most likely to come out with a win.
Lakers (28-37) vs. Wizards (29-35)
7:30 p.m. PT, Mar. 11, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Austin Reaves
PF: Stanley Johnson
C: LeBron James
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Talen Horton-Tucker, D.J. Augustin, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley
Projected Wizards Starting Lineup:
PG: Raul Neto
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Corey Kispert
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Kristaps Porzingis
Key Reserves: Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Daniel Gafford, Ish Smith
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