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Lakers vs. Wizards Preview: Celebrating Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

After a(nother) new low for the Lakers, it’ll be nice to take a short moment to celebrate the championship contributions of Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will return to L.A. as members of the Wizards on Friday.

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers are the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers. We’ve known who they are as a team for a while now, with countless reminders being shown every game of how bad they really are.

There’s really no need to relitigate their most recent “worst loss of the season”, a 139-130 defeat in overtime to the Houston Rockets, who were 16-49 coming into the night. That sentence basically tells you everything you need to know about the feeling surrounding that game for the Lakers players, coaches, and fans.

And speaking of fans — with me being one of them — we deserve better. Much, much better. Specifically, we deserve better players, as the majority of this group is barely NBA-caliber players, let alone NBA-championship-winning-caliber players.

But enough about the Lakers: The idea of those types of players seamlessly brings us to my preview of the team’s home game against the Washington Wizards, which will feature the returns of Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Welcome home, winners

Friday night’s game, surprisingly, will be the first time that the Lakers and Wizards face off this season. The teams will play their second and final matchup in just eight days, with the Lakers heading to Washington on Mar. 19th.

But this is the big one of the two, as I don’t think it will be as much fun for Wizards fans to welcome back Russell Westbrook as it will be for the Lakers fans to welcome back Kuzma and KCP.

The tribute videos are surely queued up, ready to display before the game or during a timeout, as the Lakers get to celebrate two players who were essential to the franchise’s 17th championship.

Sure, a better “celebration” of the two from the franchise would have been, you know, continuing to let them play in L.A. with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But with no way to reverse the trade for Westbrook that has led to this team’s demise, Friday’s game will have to do.

And even though Kuzma and KCP could feel spurned by the franchise for the decision that has only led to the Wizards having a better record than the Lakers coming into this one, there doesn’t seem to be much bad blood from the two players as they talked to NBA.com’s Mark Medina.

“No hard feelings. I’m at peace,” Caldwell-Pope said, “I’m happy where I’m at.”

“I don’t really play the ‘what if,’” Kuzma said in regards to the trade, “I’m cemented as a winner, and I’m cemented as a Lakers champion. For me, it’s not about ‘what if.’ It’s time to move on. It’s time to improve my game.”

Even if the two won’t reveal any hard feelings to a reporter, there has to be a little bit of a bad taste in their mouth from the trade. That’s just human nature. Whatever the chances are that they aren’t telling the whole truth, their words just show what type of professionals they are.

But once they step foot on the Crypto.com Arena court and the ball is tipped, the two can put all that professionalism to the side and get to cookin’ this pitiful Lakers defense. And if their recent play is any indication of that happening, then they may have career nights as Kuzma and KCP are averaging 25.5 and 19.2 points per game, respectively, since coming back from the All-Star Game break.

Because of that, combined with the Lakers’ most recent loss to the Rockets and their overall post-All-Star-break record of 1-6, I’m laughing at the fact that the Lakers are currently favored over the Wizards on DraftKings. I’ll gladly take the Wizards’ moneyline at +190 odds.

But either way, who really cares about whether the Lakers win or lose their 17 remaining games... including this one. With the Trail Blazers actively tanking and the Pelicans recently losing Brandon Ingram (hamstring injury) and C.J. McCollum (health and safety protocols) for a little bit of time, the Lakers’ chances at making the play-in are back to seeming safe.

Instead of worrying about the Lakers on Friday, I’m going to enjoy this one night of celebrating two players who are immortalized in Lakers fandom forever as champions.

Hell, I might even enjoy a Lakers loss in this situation.

Notes and Updates

  • LeBron James is listed as questionable heading into this one with the same knee soreness he has been dealing with. Frank Vogel expressed hopefulness that LeBron would be ready to go for Friday’s game against the Wizards, a similar sentiment he expressed about the Rockets game immediately following the loss against the Spurs that LeBron missed.
  • Talen Horton-Tucker is also listed as questionable. He was a late scratch against the Rockets. It’s been a nagging injury for THT, with him being a late scratch against the Clippers last week with the same issue. Other than that, there shouldn’t be any other surprise absences for the Lakers, with Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn remaining out.
  • Bradley Beal will be out for the Wizards as he recovers from season-ending wrist surgery he had in early February. The Wizards will also be without Vernon Carey, Jr., Isaiah Todd, and Cassius Winston, with all those players assigned to the G-League.
  • Around the NBA, the world continues to glowingly react to “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty”, the new scripted drama on HBO covering the “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s. Well, everyone is reacting positively except the Lakers themselves. Jeff Pearlman, the author of the book that inspired the show, recently joined our own Anthony Irwin and Harrison Faigen to discuss some of the negative reactions to the show’s depiction of Jerry West as well as many other topics regarding “Winning Time”.

The Lakers and Wizards will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. PT, with the game being nationally televised on NBA TV and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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