The Los Angeles Lakers finish their three-game homestand as Bradley Beal and the red-hot Washington Wizards enter Staples Center seeking their fifth-straight victory.
For Los Angeles, they’re currently a roster devoid of playmaking and offensive creativity, as they’ve lost two games in a row to the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat. Every game is a new opportunity, and for the Lakers, they desperately need their role players to improve.
LeBron James is still performing at an exceptional level, but beyond Kyle Kuzma’s recent resurgence and Montrezl Harrell’s energy off the bench, there’s a lack of consistent production from others.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided a pivotal presence from 3-point range against Miami, going 3-for-5. In the seven games before that, he shot just 19% from deep. The Wizards aren’t reputed as a staunch defensive unit, especially their Russell Westbrook-Beal backcourt, so Caldwell-Pope has an opportunity to produce another solid outing tonight.
The same applies to Alex Caruso and Wesley Matthews, who will be tasked to score more in Dennis Schroder’s absence. Though Caruso isn’t your typical scoring point guard — his impact lies on defense and hitting catch-and-shoot 3s — the Lakers need him to knock down his floaters and midrange jumpers. Caruso mustered just two points in 46 minutes of action the last two games.
Matthews played a major role in the Lakers’ comeback effort against Miami, pairing with LeBron in the pick-and-pop game to generate space for himself and for James to penetrate the paint. Matthews finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, and playing Washington’s shoddy defense could set him up for another strong performance.
In the frontcourt, Marc Gasol hasn’t produced as expected. Though Lakers head coach Frank Vogel believes Gasol willfind a rhythm during Anthony Davis’ absence, he hasn’t put together consistent games on both ends yet.
Harrell, however, could be a catalyst down low. He’s coming off a robust, 18-point, 10-rebound double-double game against Miami’s vigorous frontcourt, and the matchups align in his favor against the Wizards. Washington’s starting center Thomas Bryant is out for the season with a torn ACL, and they’ve tapped Moritz Wagner and Robin Lopez to replace his minutes. Both are players Harrell should succeed against.
The tall task at hand for Los Angeles is minimizing the impact of Washington’s star-studded backcourt. The Wizards have won their last four games, and Westbrook and Beal made it possible. Westbrook dropped a triple-double in three of those victories and was a rebound away from making that four. Beal leads the league in points per game, averaging a sizzling 32.9 points on 24.2 attempts, also the highest number in the league.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they possess a stalwart defense. As crucial as it is for players like Caruso and Matthews to produce offensively, they’ll also need to be almost flawless defensively. Fighting through screens, rotating precisely on switches and closing out carefully will all be decisive on that end.
Davis Bertans is another player to watch. The Wizards moved him back to a bench role, where he has excelled lately. His shot hasn’t been as effective this season — 37% so far this year compared to 42.4% last year — but during Washington’s winning streak, he’s shooting 18-31 (58%) from deep.
Washington is playing much better than their 10-17 record indicates, so the Lakers cannot afford to slack off.
Lakers (22-9) vs. Wizards (10-17)
7:00 p.m. PT, Feb. 22, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris
Projected Wizards starting lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Garrison Mathews
PF: Rui Hachimura
C: Moritz Wagner
Key Reserves: Davis Bertans, Robin Lopez, Raul Neto, Deni Avdija
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