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Lakers vs. Wizards Preview: Can L.A. play this hard for two games in a row?

The Lakers need to start the game with the same sense of urgency they did against the Raptors on Friday night.

Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers are back at it tomorrow against the Washington Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back, which is unfortunate for two parties: The players, who have to travel from Canada to D.C. and play another game in less than 24 hours, and Lakers fans, who have to hope this team can play hard for two games in a row, a rarity this season.

But maybe this time the Lakers might just replicate their hard-fought performance on Friday night and win both ends of a road back-to-back for the first time this season. After all, Friday’s win was the first one the Lakers nabbed in 12 games that LeBron James didn’t have to score 50 or more points for them to come out on top.

He only needed 36 in 45 minutes, in an overtime win. That’s all.

Speaking of which, the Lakers needed James to erupt for 50 and shoot a ridiculous 72% from the field to beat the struggling Wizards at home exactly this time last week. The odds of James doing that again on the tail end of a back-to-back are likely slim, but maybe they can win Saturday’s game if they go back to the film room and observe how they got past the Wizards last week.

The purple and gold got key contributions from young role players like Malik Monk and Talen Horton-Tucker (who seemed riled up to go at old friends Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that night), who combined for 36 points. The team also outscored the Wizards (56-52) in the paint, got to the free-throw line a ton, and actually started this game with a strong sense of urgency — something they had also done for the first time in a while against the Raptors on Friday.

The Lakers were able to dissect the Wizards’ sixth-worst-in-the-league defense that night, and they can’t go in this game thinking that James can turn on “LeBronto” mode once again and carry the entire scoring load for the second night in a row. Instead, they need to attack the Wizards’ poor rim protection and collapse their defense inside the paint so they can free up their shooters, who can hopefully shoot somewhere close to 52.7% from the field similar to last week.

There were a few clues about how they can do so against a much better Raptors defense on Friday. That win was the first time in a while when the purple and gold got creative and moved the ball well on offense (they had 33 assists tonight), out-hustled their opponent, and played determined defense when it mattered most.

But the most important takeaway from the Lakers’ inspiring Friday night performance was the fact that almost the whole team contributed, from Wenyen Gabriel’s 14 points in the first quarter, to James’ phenomenal fourth-quarter takeover, to Russell Westbrook’s game-tying clutch basket down the stretch. Hopefully, the purple and gold can replicate this exactly 24 hours from now as Westbrook returns to D.C., where he played all of last season.

That said, the above game-plan is moot if the Lakers — who are 1.5-point underdogs against the Wizards tomorrow, according to our friends over at DraftKings — don’t start the game with the urgency they did on Friday. Or, more frankly, if they play the way they have for the most of the season. There’s a reason why the Lakers have yet to win back-to-back games on the road all year. The Wizards, who are also playing on the second night of a back-to-back, have lost six straight games, so L.A. has no real excuse to lose this one.

Notes and updates:

  • Here’s a fun fact: The Lakers’ victory against the Raptors on Friday was their seventh overtime win of the season. They’re currently 7-2 in OT this year, which is the best record in the league. Maybe the Lakers’ game plan should involve them going to overtime every game?
  • Jokes aside, let’s appreciate this iconic Westbrook steal and game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime today. Russ hasn’t had the best season in purple and gold, but last night had to be one hell of a feel-good moment for the L.A. native who’s struggled all year.
  • And of course, this game wouldn’t be what it was if it weren’t for LeBron, who went full-on LeBronto mode in the second half.
  • Moving on to tomorrow’s game, Wayne Ellington and Carmelo Anthony’s status remains unknown after they sat out Friday’s game due to non-COVID-related illness. Hopefully both sharpshooters are ready for Saturday night. Here is the full injury report:
  • Anthony Davis’ exact status also remains unknown, but according to Frank Vogel, he had a “productive” week of rehab. Davis was seen getting up some shots prior to Friday’s game. AD might just be back before Kendrick Nunn, who’s been all out all season due to a bone bruise injury.
  • For news around the league, the Golden State Warriors announced that Steph Curry will be out for quite some time due to a left foot ligament injury. He will be evaluated in two weeks, which is a timeline Lakers fans should take note of, because they face the Warriors for the last time this regular season on April 7.

The Lakers and Wizards will tip-off at 5 p.m. PT on Saturday night. The game will be locally televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

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