The Los Angeles Lakers (36-33) are preparing to host the Washington Wizards (24-43) in a game that could wind up being much more important and exciting than it looks on paper.
Because the Wizards' lowly record isn’t exactly indicative of their skills, they do present an ample challenge to the Lakers—especially if Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant both end up returning from injury at less than 100 percent effectiveness.
Speaking of those two superstars, it’s clear L.A. desperately needs them back after getting embarrassed by the Phoenix Suns on Monday. If this squad is going to hold on for a playoff seed in the competitive Western Conference, Gasol and Bryant can’t afford to miss any more games.
Let’s take a look at the where you can watch this cross-coastal battle. Check out an updated injury report, players to watch and much more in our Lakers vs. Wizards game preview.
When: Friday, Mar. 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
Watch: CSNB (WAS), TWC SN (LAL)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass (paid service)
Wizards Injury Report (via USA Today)
G Bradley Beal, Questionable, Ankle
C Emeka Okafor, Questionable, Illness
G A.J. Price, Questionable, Groin
G Leandro Barbosa, Out, Knee
Lakers Injury Report (via USA Today)
G Kobe Bryant, Probable, Ankle
G Steve Blake, Questionable, Illness
F Pau Gasol, Questionable, Foot
C Jordan Hill, Out, Hip
Key Storyline: Injuries
As you can see from the latest injury report, there are a handful of notable players questionable for this game.
Kobe Bryant has missed the past two games, but there’s a good chance he suits up on Friday—as it has been eight days since the initial sprain of his ankle occurred.
Pau Gasol could be making his much-awaited debut after going down with a partially torn plantar fascia back on Feb. 5. Coach Mike D’Antoni thinks he will play, a great sign for a team that direly needs the veteran big back in the lineup.
Steve Blake is another underrated bench player for L.A. whose possible absence would certainly be felt. The backup point guard averages 5.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 22.5 valuable minutes off the pine.
On the other side, Bradley Beal is an emerging star that is behind only John Wall in scoring for this up-and-coming organization. He suffered an ankle injury late in Wednesday’s contest against Phoenix and may not be available—a tough break for the Wizards.
Emeka Okafor could also miss a second-straight game due to illness, as he failed to suit up against the Suns and may be sidelined on Friday as well. Should Gasol come back, Washington will surely miss Okafor’s interior presence.
Keep checking the injury report closer to tip-off, as that will likely tell the tale of how this contest is going to go.
Key Matchup to Watch: Kobe Bryant vs. Trevor Ariza
Once championship-winning teammates, the Black Mamba and Ariza will be matched up against one another on Friday evening.
Ariza is regarded as the Wizards’ top perimeter defender and is tasked with slowing down some of the best players his team faces on a nightly basis. While Bryant is usually one of the hardest opponents to prevent from scoring, Washington's stopper may have an advantage in this one.
Because of Bryant’s sprained ankle, his effectiveness could be severely limited. When the superstar tried to give it a go this past Friday against the Indiana Pacers, he went 0-of-4 shooting, scored zero points and played just 12 minutes before sitting the rest of the contest.
If the Mamba is in any way still hindered, Ariza could potentially lock him down and help the Wizards to an improbable win.
If we see a full-strength Lakers squad, they should have no issues downing the Wizards.
Which team will win?
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would be a welcome addition to a lineup that has been struggling with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard doing the heavy lifting over the past few games.
With L.A. hanging onto the No. 8 seed in the conference—and still having a legitimate chance to move up a few notches before the end of the 2012-13 campaign—we expect the players will come out hungry for a win.
While John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal (possibly) make up a formidable trio, the Wizards just don’t have the firepower or bench play to steal a win in Los Angeles.
Lakers 103, Wizards 97