The war of words has already begun taking place as the John Wall and the Washington Wizards enter Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nonetheless, it is a team game and the Wizards come into Los Angeles as one of four remaining undefeated teams in the league and boasting arguably the NBA’s top backcourt in Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Lakers are coming off a tough loss on Sunday as they came up short against the New Orleans Pelicans after erasing a 22-point deficit. They will look to get back on the right track and hand Washington their first loss of the season.
Wall and Beal form one of the top backcourts in the NBA as Wall is impossible to stop in transition while Beal is lethal in the halfcourt game with his unlimited range and underrated ball-handling.
While the Wall-Ball matchup has been all the talk, it will likely be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who draws the assignment of containing the All-Star point guard. Keeping Wall away from the rim and forcing him to shoot jumpers is the key, but it is much easier said than done. KCP showed his offensive skills in his first game Sunday as well, dropping in 20 points so more of that will be welcome.
Ball on the other hand will be looking to find his form from the Phoenix game as his jumper has been off so far, shooting just 34.8 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three-point range. His work on defense will be just as important as whether he’s guarding Wall or Beal, he will need to be on his game as they each are crucial to the Wizards’ offense.
One major advantage the Lakers have over the Wizards is with their bench. Jordan Clarkson leads all bench scorers in the NBA, averaging 19.7 points per game. Corey Brewer also provides defense and energy as does rookie Josh Hart who Luke Walton said has earned more minutes.
The Wizards are extremely reliant on their starters as familiar face Jodie Meeks and Tim Frazier spell Wall and Beal for brief periods. Meeks is capable of getting hot from deep so the Lakers can’t allow him to beat them.
The Wizards have a very underrated frontcourt with Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., and Marcin Gortat. The ‘Polish Hammer’ Gortat is the preferred pick-and-roll partner of Wall, setting crushing screens and rolling hard to the rim while Porter and Oubre each provide spacing for Wall to operate.
Brook Lopez will have to be at his best to help contain Wall defensively as well as keep Gortat off the boards, particularly the offensive glass where the Wizards feast. His offensive game will also be important as his percentages are below average early on. If he can get Gortat in foul trouble it will give the Lakers a huge advantage.
Porter leads the NBA in steals with 3.7 per game so Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. will have to be very careful with the ball. Nance has been great so far as a starter, doing all the little things for the Lakers, but he has had issues with foul trouble and will need to stay on the floor.
Ingram has had his ups and downs early on this year but will be crucial to the Lakers success tonight. He must improve his efficiency, but if he can outplay Porter and Oubre the Lakers will have a distinct advantage up front.
The Lakers’ bench again has the advantage up front as Kyle Kuzma has been outstanding so far, and Julius Randle finally showed signs of life against the Pelicans. Washington’s Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi are solid at best, but like the backcourt, are players the Lakers can’t afford to let beat them.
Three Keys To Lakers Victory
Transition Defense: John Wall is the fastest guard in the league and is unstoppable in transition. He is much more manageable in the halfcourt which is why it is imperative for the Lakers to run back and keep Wall in front of them. Easy buckets will will end this game quickly.
Protect The Ball: The Wizards are second in the NBA in opponents turnovers while the Lakers are bottom-five in giving up the ball. This ties into the first point, keeping the Wizards out of transition. If they can protect the ball it limits Washington’s biggest strength.
Three-Point Shooting: The Wizards are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league and don’t defend the three-point line well either. The Lakers must take advantage of the open shots they should be able to create and put a large gap in between themselves and Washington.