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One-on-one: Rebirth for Roy Hibbert with Lakers?

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One-on-one: Rebirth for Roy Hibbert with Lakers?

The start of the 2015-16 season remains several weeks away, which means there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the NBA road ahead. For the next couple of weeks, CSNwashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward a possible third straight playoff appearance.

Roy Hibbert gets literally dumped by the Pacers, but is playing with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers a good spot to turn things around?

 J. Michael: If by “turn things around” you mean not be the scapegoat for when the Lakers lose – a lot – then yes. There will be plenty of targets for the Lakers (namely coach Byron Scott), who Kobe Bryant believes can be a playoff team in the loaded Western Conference. That pain medicine he’s taking is having serious side effects.

In Indiana, Hibbert went from All-Star to sacrificial lamb. It’s hard to imagine a starting center who is 7-2 struggling to rebound but Hibbert had three or less 15 times last season.  In 2013-14, when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed in the East, Hibbert had three rebounds or less seven times in the playoffs alone, including twice when he posted a doughnut. They didn’t make it to the NBA Finals. And a $17 million salary made things worse.

Everything is relative. In L.A., they have to do something drastic to help turn the franchise around. Taking a gamble on Hibbert is worth it and he will be considered an upgrade from Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer in a lot of ways. It’s a one-year commitment so if Hibbert fails, he’s gone anyway. Given how so many teams play small out West, they’re going to make Hibbert’s foot speed a liability. And Scott is stubborn enough to leave him on the floor to defend Draymond Green. 

I can’t see Hibbert turning things around with the Lakers. But it’s still better for him than Indiana.

Ben Standig: I'm not as completely negative on the 2015-16 Lakers as others, though they probably still won't make the playoffs which will drive Kobe Bryant crazy and make good TV for the rest of us. The veteran additions of Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams plus No. 2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell significantly upgrades the overall talent pool. Combined with Bryant, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, Los Angeles can field an interesting rotation when healthy. 

Yet projecting how these random pieces fit together and if coach Byron Scott can do just that is a concern especially when focusing on Hibbert. The 7-foot-2 center doesn't do hodge podge. His low post and methodical style isn't truly malleable. Put Hibbert in controlled half court offensive sets on one end and a organize a group defensive plan on the other that schemes ball handlers his way, then perhaps he flashes previous All-Star form.

None of that seems likely with this group. On the surface, Hibbert's style doesn't mesh with gunners like Bryant and Williams. Collectively this group doesn't have a lockdown defense vibe. Hibbert's offense comes from setup's an he'll have baby point guards in Clarkson and Russell feeding him the ball.

All that said, simply being out of Indiana may give Hibbert the spark he needs for a rebirth. Getting starred down by Bryant during one of his funks will not.

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LeBron James had his worst-ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

LeBron James had his worst-ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

No Wizards fan needs to be reminded of the torment their favorite team has suffered at the hands of LeBron James for the last decade-and-a-half. He has eliminated them from the playoffs three times, scored 57 in their building and hit a variety of game-winning shots.

So, it should be considered no small feat what the Wizards did on Sunday night in their 128-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. They held James, arguably the league's best player, to only 13 points. That's his lowest scoring total ever against the Wizards franchise.

James has played the Wizards 65 times over the years, between the regular season and the playoffs. His previous career low vs. the Wizards was 14, back on Feb. 7 of 2004, when he was a rookie.

While in the Eastern Conference for his first 15 NBA seasons, James played the Wizards four times a year and often had the upper-hand. In his career, even with Sunday's loss, he is 30-19 against them with a 26.9 points per game average.

Usually, James powers his way to the rim against the Wizards and scores at will. Not on Sunday night.

"I have no clue," head coach Scott Brooks said when asked for the secret to shutting him down.

"It seems like every night it's 40 points here. He makes shots. Last year, here I think he averaged [39.9 points, 11.0 assists and 10.0 rebounds]. He's a pretty good player."

James shot just 5-for-16 from the field on Sunday, good for 31.3 percent. He was 0-for-2 from three and had four turnovers with only three assists. He was a -21 in the box score.

Some of James' struggles could be attributed to fatigue, as the Lakers played the night before in Charlotte. And James did have an off-night with some missed shots he would otherwise make.

But the Wizards had a plan and it worked. They deployed Jeff Green to guard him in isolation. Green is not only the Wizards' best match from a physical standpoint, he knows James well having played with him last season with the Cavaliers.

Green did an excellent job matching James' physical style without fouling. He had only one foul on the night despite playing bump-and-run coverage on many of James' drives to the basket.

Green and the Wizards also took away his three-point looks by closing early and making him pass to teammates. James' two three-point attempts were a season-low.

"Give a lot of credit to Jeff. Jeff did a great job," guard John Wall said. "It was one game. We know he is how he is. Just gotta tip your hat for us, making him make tough shots and make plays tonight."

The Wizards wanted others to beat them from long range and James' teammates didn't come through. While James didn't get off many threes, other Lakers did. They just didn't hit them.

Josh Hart went 0-for-5 from long range. Lonzo Ball went 2-for-7 and Kyle Kuzma went 0-for-4. 

“I think we did a good job of making it difficult on [James], showing him a lot of bodies, active hands," guard Bradley Beal said.

With James in check, the Wizards took advantage. They forced 22 total turnovers and that allowed Wall to feast in transition. He scored a season-high 40 points and dished 14 assists.

For one night, the Wizards had James' number. After 16 years of domination, it was about time.

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Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Scott Brooks doesn’t know much about Sam Dekker. Four games since the Wizards acquired the energy forward as part of a successful three-team deal, it’s clear the head coach is enjoying the homework.

John Wall’s passionate work from the start against the Los Angeles Lakers helped snap the Wizards’ four-game losing streak, but Dekker’s X-factor performance also stood out in Washington’s rousing 128-110 win Sunday night.

Sunday marked the Wizards’ first game since the weekend’s chaotic trade sequence that will ultimately bring Trevor Ariza back to Washington. The deal doesn’t become approved by the league until Monday. With Otto Porter (right knee contusion) sidelined, Washington took the court shorthanded at positions where players would contend with LeBron James. Markieff Morris exited after a knock to the chin resulted in a stinger.

Brooks admitted pregame he loved the undermanned challenge. Dekker’s constant and perceptive movement helped Washington play at needed levels without cutting corners.

“Sam is a great cutter. That is what I am finding out,” Brooks said. “I didn't really know everything about his game, I still don't.”

Brooks isn’t alone in learning about the fourth-year player. Dekker received regular rotation work the previous two seasons with the Rockets and Clippers, but his NBA career has yet to blast off.

An ankle injury kept him off the court in Cleveland earlier this campaign until the Dec. 7 trade involving Jason Smith landed him in Washington.

The general scouting report played out in real life against the Lakers. High motor player. Athletic 6-foot-9 forward. Scattered shooting from distance.

The two positive traits showed in the open court and on the move. Dekker repeatedly found space when Wall or Tomas Satoransky ran the offense. They frequently found him for dunks and layups. Dekker finished 10 of 15 from the field.

“Whenever I have the ball or attack, penetrate, he’s a great cutter,” said Wall, who finished with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists. “We were just talking about it. He said ‘Whenever you have the opportunity to be aggressive, I’m always a guy that’s cutting and doing the little things. I don’t mind doing the dirty work.’”

The Wizards (12-18) need more grit in their world considering their underachieving start to the season. That’s something Dekker believes he can provide. Considering he doesn’t have full grasp of the team’s playbook terminology, falling on the back of basketball basics is necessary for now.

“They called out a couple of plays tonight and I looked at John, looked at Brad (Beal) and I’m like where (do I go), Dekker said spastically. “(They) would just say go to the corner. OK. That part of it is tough.

“One thing you can control is how hard you play and how smart you play. When you put yourself in a position to do some good things, and help the team. That’s really all I’m trying to do right now.”

Going forward Dekker will try finding a spot in Washington’s rotation. Ariza, who was Dekker’s basketball tutor when the two played in Houston during the 2016-17 season, likely moves into the starting lineup.

Reserve minutes opened when Washington traded Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix for Ariza.  The basics of Dekker’s game compares to the popular Oubre, but with perhaps a steadier baseline.

He has yet to run the court with complete ease. Dekker remains on a minute’s restriction because of the ankle injury. “I was able to do some things tonight that I haven’t been able to in the past couple of games. That was a positive,” he said.

There’s no guarantees for minutes or the 24-year-old being part of Washington’s future. Dekker is one of several restricted free agents on the roster. For now the goal is simple: Play and play hard.

“I’m just trying to prove myself every night. I’m trying to show coach I’m a guy that can help this team,” Dekker said. “I’ve helped teams in the past, but I really want to be part of a playoff run here.”

Color Brooks impressed, with one clear clanking exception.

“I'm assuming that he is going to be able to shoot threes better than he did,” Brooks said after watching Dekker air ball a 3-point attempt and wildly miss on another. “But he cuts to the basket, he moves the ball, he plays hard, he brings energy, he plays with the proper respect for the game. That is what I love about him, he always seems to be prepared. He doesn't have to turn the switch on, it's on.” 

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