The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night in the second game of a back-to-back. This game will be perhaps the most difficult of the three-game Eastern Conference road trip, as the Wizards (11-5) narrowly trail the Toronto Raptors for the top seed. Washington has been derailed all year long with a variety of injuries, but they continue to plug through despite the prolonged absence of Bradley Beal early on and now Nene.
Washington acquired the Polish Giant, Marcin Gortat, just days prior to the start of the 2013-14 season in exchange for a first-round draft pick and the corpse of Emeka Okafor. It was a bold trade considering the Wizards have struggled with mediocrity for almost the entirety of the franchise’s existence, so giving away a pick is always risky. However, Gortat has filled the gaping void at center very well with his mere presence alone, anchoring the paint as the catalyst to a top-7 defense. The big-man is averaging a solid 13.4 points and 8.9 rebounds with 54.7 percent shooting, having recorded seven double-doubles through 17 total games and is fresh off of back-to-back impressive outings averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over that span.
Nene is listed as doubtful for Wednesday night’s game as he continues to battle with plantar fascia issues in his right foot. Instead, head coach Randy Wittman will likely give Kris Humphries the starting nod in his place for the fifth time this season. Humphries was brought aboard on a three-year contract last summer as insurance to the constantly injured frontcourt, a move that has already paid dividends. Humphries is no longer the double-double machine that he was with the New Jersey Nets. but he has proven to be at the very least a competent role player. Both Gortat and Humphries’ respective games are primarily predicated within the paint and/or in the post, so don’t expect to see either player wander outside the paint too often.
A familiar foe mans the small forward position. He goes by the moniker of “The Truth” and just so happens to have been a thorn in the Lakers’ side since he entered the league in 1998. As we all know, Paul Pierce and the bitter rival Boston Celtics dominated our Lakers in ’08 Finals, before Los Angeles came back in 2010 and won in seven games to capture the franchise’s 16th NBA title. Pierce is also a highly respected opponent amongst Lakers fans as his heart and will to win is incredibly honorable. He also tends to perform particularly well vs. Los Angeles averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists per game for his career excluding playoffs. His career may be dwindling down as he endures his twilight years, but #34 is always a threat to explode offensively on any given night, especially against the Lakers.
Coined the remix of Ray Allen headed into the 2012 NBA Draft, Bradley Beal has seemingly discovered his role primarily as a scoring two-guard exemplified by his career stat line of 15.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. The former third overall pick has a sweet trigger from beyond the arc, but has yet to find his groove this year after fracturing his wrist in early-October. Aside from being mainly an outside shooter, Beal is a very capable ball-handler when need be and has also developed an above-average pick and roll game. Beal is expected to manifest himself into a future cornerstone player for this Wizards team alongside star point guard John Wall.
The Wizards’ fate originally began to turnaround when they landed the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, selecting Wall as the franchise point guard. Wall’s extraordinary quickness and unique playmaking abilities have earned him consideration as one of the league’s most highly touted young point guards. Although he still hasn’t developed an outside shot, Wall’s ability to penetrate the paint makes him an extremely difficult matchup for any guard. Grantland’s Jalen Rose has fittingly nicknamed the backcourt duo of Wall and Beal, “Hustle and Flow,” basically summing up their style of play in a nutshell.
Keys to Victory:
Kobe Bryant’s Energy Level: Head coach Byron Scott has poorly managed Bryant’s minutes all year, allowing him to play a jaw-dropping 35+ minutes per game. In his nineteenth season at the advanced age of 36, Bryant can no longer play such a substantial amount of minutes because it will undoubtedly catch up to him sooner rather than later. Physical exhaustion is the cited reason for his absence in the team shoot around before Tuesday’s game and we’re lucky it was nothing of a greater extent.
Wing Defense: Nearly 50 points of Washington’s 98.2 points per game is accounted from the shooting guard and small forward positions, so Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Kobe Bryant will have their hands full defensively for the entire 48 minutes. Both Pierce and Beal are clearly threats, but the Wizards have several reinforcements when those two need rest. Rasual Butler, in particular, has been lighting it up with two 23-point performances in the previous three games.
Limiting John Wall’s Penetration: As the team’s leading scorer (18.2 PPG) and assister (9.3 APG), John Wall is a tremendous offensive threat with the ball in his hands. He loves penetrating the paint and either kicking it out for a jumper, dishing it to one of his big guys or scoring on an acrobatic play himself. If the Lakers can force Wall to operate outside the paint, Washington’s offense is bound to implode as he is a career 31 percent three-point shooter.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 8.5-point underdogs against the Wizards according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (5-13) at Washington Wizards (11-5)
4:00 PM PST, December 3, 2014
Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Wizards Projected Starting Lineup
PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kris Humphries
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Reserves: SF: Otto Porter Jr., PF: Drew Gooden, C: Kevin Seraphin
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
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