The Los Angeles Lakers will undoubtedly be heavy favorites as they host the Washington Wizards in hopes of getting their 10th straight win.
But recently, nothing has come easy for this team and the Wizards present some problems for them.
Of course, any discussion with the Wizards begins with Bradley Beal, who has quickly morphed into one of the league’s best and most underrated players. Beal is fourth in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points and has greatly improved his playmaking in the absence of John Wall with 7.0 assists.
Everything with the Wizards runs through Beal and how the Lakers guard him will be worth monitoring. Danny Green would seem likely to get the initial job but expect Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to spend a lot of time shadowing him as well as possibly Alex Caruso and even LeBron James. With a player of Beal’s caliber, showing multiple different defensive looks tends to be the best way to go.
Aside from Beal, some familiar faces are all around the Wizards lineup. Thomas Bryant is second on the Wizards in scoring and leads them in rebounding. Additionally, Moe Wagner is one of their top players off the bench, averaging just over 12 points while knocking down nearly 50% from three-point range while Isaiah Thomas has just taken over the Wizards starting point guard job.
What is scary about this Wizards team despite their 6-10 record is this is a very good offensive team.
They lead the NBA in points per game and are second in offensive rating. They also shoot 38 percent from the three-point line, good for sixth in the league and attempt 34 a game. The Lakers have had serious issues defending the three-point line recently with each of their last three opponents hitting at least 40 percent of their deep shots.
This has contributed to one of the season-long issues with the Lakers in their slow starts. Both the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies got off to scorching starts from deep leading to the Lakers having to claw back. Though they have done so time and again, eventually that will catch up to them especially against some of the better teams.
The reason the Wizards have a losing record despite their top-flight offense is their defense is equally as bad as their offense is good. They rank dead last in points allowed, defensive rating, and defensive field goal percentage while also being in the bottom-10 in categories such as defensive rebounding, steals, blocks, and points in the paint allowed.
Needless to say, the Lakers should be able to blow this team off the court, but only if they get back to their offensive identity.
In the last contest against the Pelicans, the Lakers were far too stagnant offensively, choosing to feed the ball into Anthony Davis and stand around.
The Lakers are at their best when moving the ball around and getting everyone involved. That, combined with what should be an advantage on the glass, should allow them to score more than enough to win this game.
The Wizards have no one who can guard Davis or James, so both should feast on this Wizards frontcourt and this could also be a game where JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard shine against an undersized opponent.
James has been at an MVP level and consistently brings whatever the Lakers need on any given night. Being matched up with Rui Hachimura should allow him to dominate wherever he chooses. The same goes for Davis against Bryant and Wagner. James and Davis combining for 60-70 points tonight is a real possibility.
But the Lakers will also need to get their shooters going. Green has scored in single-digits in four of the last five games so he must begin to turn that around. Kyle Kuzma has also begun to find his groove as has Caldwell-Pope. A big night from two of the three should be enough to get the Lakers over the hump.
Defense has been the team’s calling card this season, but that has been a little questionable ever since Avery Bradley went down to injury. Traditionally, the Lakers have had a bad habit of letting lesser players have career nights and the Wizards have some candidates for that.
The Lakers simply can not allow players like Davis Bertans, Jordan McRae, Ish Smith, or Hachimura to get hot.
If the Lakers get back to their ways of lockdown defense and ball movement on offense, this could be an easy night against a lesser team.
But if they continue their recent trends, this Wizards team could shoot the lights out and make the Lakers sweat out another close game.