The Washington Wizards lost to the Lakers 122-109 in L.A. on Friday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
The Wizards have made it clear they would like to reach the play-in tournament, they seem to have enough talent to do so even without Bradley Beal and they are playing a favorable schedule, yet they are having some trouble taking advantage. They lost to the Lakers on Friday night, marking their second straight defeat and their fifth in seven games.
With only 17 games remaining on their schedule, the Wizards will need to pick up the pace and soon. They are now 2 1/2 games back of the Hawks, who hold the final play-in spot in the East.
It can get late early in the NBA standings. While a 2 1/2-game deficit may not seem like much with 17 games remaining, if the Hawks (32-34) go .500 from here on out (8-8), the Wizards (29-36) would need to go 11-6 just to finish with the same record and leave it up to a tiebreaker. They would have to go 12-5 to earn a play-in spot outright.
It's not impossible, but they need to start packing away some wins very soon to give themselves a real chance. The good news is they have another game on Saturday night in Portland.
LeBron went off
The Lakers went small in this game by putting LeBron James at center, partly because Anthony Davis was out due to injury, but it was also to counter the size of Kristaps Porzingis (7-foot-3) with the speed, shooting and everything else of James. It worked quite well for them, particularly in the third quarter when James went into all-time great mode and became completely unstoppable. He had 19 points in the frame, outscoring the Wizards 16-12 coming out of the half.
James had 50 points for the game to go along with seven rebounds and six assists. He shot 18-for-25 from the field and 6-for-9 from three, yet another dominant performance from him against the Wizards in a long line of them. Porzingis, meanwhile, was able to take advantage of the Lakers' small-ball lineups on the glass with 14 rebounds, but he struggled to score for the first time in three games playing for the Wizards. He had 14 points but shot just 3-for-13.
Hachimura and Kispert played well
The Wizards got off to a slow start shooting the ball, as they had trouble solving the Lakers' switch defense. Washington started breaking through late in the first quarter, however, with help from Rui Hachimura, who immediately knocked down two threes after entering the game to snap the Wizards out of a 1-for-9 start from deep.
From there, Hachimura got going in the midrange and reached halftime with 13 points in 14 minutes on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field. He slowed down a bit after that, but finished with 15 points and six rebounds, shooting 2-for-3 from three. It was his 12th straight game making at least one triple.
Hachimura's former college teammate, Corey Kispert, picked up where he left off in the second half and ended up one of the best games of his young career. He had 21 points, including a career-high five 3-pointers. Interestingly enough, Kispert is now shooting 38.3% from three in road games compared to 30.2% at home.
Kuzma and KCP
The Wizards' two former Lakers, Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope, were treated to a nice tribute video at Crypto.com Arena, formerly known as the Staples Center, in the first half. It was an excellent montage of highlights and pictures that included footage of Kuzma being drafted and playing well in the Summer League.
Caldwell-Pope didn't have his best game. Usually one of the most consistent players on the Wizards, he was off and managed only four points (1-6 FG). Kuzma, though, was good once again and poured in 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting with seven rebounds. Though his team didn't come away with the win, this was a big spot for him, going back to the team he began his career with, and he delivered.
Gafford was good
Though he didn't have great scoring numbers, this was one of the most entertaining games Daniel Gafford has played all season. He only scored five points, yet provided a series of highlight plays. On offense, he had a turnaround dunk on Stanley Johnson and a vicious two-handed alley-oop slam assisted by Kuzma. On defense, he had a huge block on Malik Monk, one that left the Lakers guard a bit shaken up afterwards. Gafford, being the nice guy that he is, helped Monk up and seemed to be genuinely concerned if he was okay.
Gafford also had seven rebounds and three blocks for the game. It was yet another night he made a noticeable impact off the Wizards' bench, which outscored the Lakers' second unit 41-to-27. Maybe he's just healthier than he was earlier in the season, but Gafford looks revitalized in a backup role. His recent progress has to be encouraging for the Wizards' front office. The rest of this season is mainly about player development and he's among several guys showing positive signs.