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Lakers 115, Wizards 108: The Blowout That Should've Been, But Then Wasn't

If you've ever wondered why the Hollinger power rankings never seem to be all that in love with the Lakers, this is the reason. About eight or nine times a year, the Lakers face a terrible opponent and instead of kneecapping the fools like they owe money, the champs are content to slide by with a single-digit W. We're used to it by now. It doesn't mean anything other than that when you've been to three straight Finals and won two straight titles, getting jazzed for a mid-December run with the Wizards isn't the easiest thing in the world. No one should be surprised if it happens again tomorrow against the cosigners of the Staples Center lease.

Tonight the Lake Show reamed the Wizards in the first half, built up a 19-point lead by the middle of the third quarter, promptly surrendered almost all of it and then did just enough in the fourth to put the game away. At no point in this sequence of events did it seem the Lakers might actually lose. That's just how they do. Against the scrubs of the world they struggle to fend off boredom until they can clock out of their shift and head home. When the scheduled 48 minutes of play came to an end this evening, the scoreboard read 115 to 108 in the Lakers' favor. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

So, apparently the Wizards are atrocious on D. I understood this on an intellectual level coming into tonight's game, but it didn't register viscerally until I got a look at their version of a zone defense, which they attempted to play for most of the contest. I don't know how to characterize it other than to say it was some of the most inept defense I've ever seen in the NBA. Gargantuan holes invited the Lakers to drive from any angle they wished. A couple simple passes - one into the paint and then another to a big man near the hoop - led to a constant flow of layups and free throws. For the game the Lakers scored 1.26 points per possession, a huge number that easily could've been higher if they'd kept their focus on working the ball inside, which of course they didn't.

Kobe Bryant was generally excellent, scoring 32 points on 27 shots (including free-throw possessions). Aside from an ill-considered three-point attempt late in the fourth quarter when he should've let more time melt off the clock, his shot selection was impeccable, as was his overall command of the offense. An active Lamar Odom (likewise guilty of untimely three-jacking down the stretch) scored 17 first-half points and 24 for the game. Pau Gasol, with 21 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, nearly picked up his second triple-double of the season. His work on the offensive glass was critical to the 25 second-chance points the team accumulated. On that front, it helped that the Wizards' were without injured power forward Andray Blatche. He's one of Washington's best defensive rebounders, and in his absence Flip Saunders had to rely on Trevor Booker (who played well) and Kevin Seraphin (who didn't).

The Lakers also got some important longballs from Steve Blake and Shannon Brown, who helped make up for the starters' shooting 2 for 16 from three-point range. The team's three-point shooting remains a real problem. In six straight games the Lakers have made 32% or fewer of their attempts from distance.

Outside shooting was not a problem for the Wizards tonight. John Wall (22 points on 17 shots), Gilbert Arenas (23 on 19) and especially Nick Young (30 on a mere 20 shots) all had the fever. Some of this the Lakers brought on themselves with slow-footed D on the perimeter. Some was just the Wizards making tough buckets. Good thing the Washington frontline was a total wreck or there could've been some real nervousness around here.

That they let the Wiz hang close could come back to trouble the Lakers on Wednesday, when they host visit face the Clippers. Gasol had to play 43 minutes, Ron Artest 39 and Odom 37. Had they dropped the hammer and put the game away in the third, a good portion of those minutes could have been avoided.

In any case, the first quarter of the regular season is now in the books. Fifteen wins and six losses? Could've gone a little better, I suppose, but basically the Lakers have got the job done. That's the story of both tonight's game and the season so far.

Don't forget to join us tomorrow for... Battle: Los Angeles.











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