If there has become such a thing as a classic Los Angeles Lakers loss, Friday night was the perfect example.
The Lakers hosted the Washington Wizards in their final home game of March, and a dominant first half disappeared with a run by the road team late in the third quarter. A 103-100 loss wasn’t how the team wanted to welcome Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol back to the rotation, and it was a disappointing way to continue a push toward the postseason.
In the opening minutes of the game, L.A. looked as if it would put the Wizards away early. In the first period alone, the team scored 35 points on nearly 70 percent shooting, and a big reason for the efficiency was that Dwight Howard was a first option on multiple possessions.
The most surprising stat from the first quarter came from the bench. The reserves scored 19 points in the first 12 minutes, and with a healthy starting lineup, less pressure equaled more production from the team’s second unit.
Efficient shooting remained a theme throughout, but lackluster defense allowed Washington to climb back in it.
Los Angeles entered halftime with a 16-point lead, but that mark would be whittled down to two heading into the fourth. A late-game surge from the Wizards epitomized the Lakers’ season, as this group can look like contenders one moment and a lottery team the next.
Poor execution down the stretch put this game in Washington’s favor. It came down to a last-second heave from behind the arc, and in all-too-familiar fashion, Los Angeles dropped a contest that had once been in its control.
Steve Nash didn't play a bad game Friday night against the Washington Wizards, but it was clear early on that Kobe Bryant would be the one controlling the offense.
Nash's shooting ability kept Washington's defense honest, but his performance wasn't exactly noteworthy. He finished with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, and he recorded six assists in 35 minutes.
The big problem for Nash was defense. He struggled tremendously keeping up with John Wall, which was a huge reason the road team came storming back throughout the third quarter.
Wall burned the veteran almost every time he had the ball, and if he had any semblance of a jump shot, he could have helped get the Wizards back in it sooner with all of his open looks.
In a game like this, you can't fault Nash for knowing his role, which was letting Bryant handle the ball. What you can do is point to his struggles, and hope that Mike D'Antoni is willing to make adjustments on both sides of the floor to keep him involved.
Kobe Bryant only took four points with him into halftime, but he had his fingerprints all over the team's 16-point lead.
The shooting guard collected six assists in the first half alone, but the way he got them was more impressive than the actual number. He was attacking the basket and finding his teammates, and he was looking for Dwight Howard from the game's opening quarter.
Nobody on the Washington Wizards could stay in front of Bryant in isolation sets, and the 34-year-old made it clear that his mission was to set up his teammates when double-teams began to show.
All that being said, when you look at Bryant's performance, you have to look at both sides of the story. He turned the ball over six times, his defense—or lack thereof—was a reason for Washington's comeback and in all honesty, he probably should have taken over the scoring role earlier in the third.
With a fourth-quarter takeover, Bryant tallied 21 points on the night to go with his 11 assists, but in a loss like this, you'd like to see the veteran will this team on both sides of the floor.
Metta World Peace has been guilty on more than one occasion of inefficient shooting. Usually when that's the case, he's forcing shots and making bad decisions.
Friday night was a quiet one for the small forward, but it wasn't one where he did anything to hurt the team's chances.
World Peace took his first two shots early in the game—two three-pointers—and made both of them. He didn't take his third attempt until the second half, as he was showing discipline throughout the duration of the contest.
In 39 total minutes, World Peace made three of his six shots. His limited attempts were certainly a result of his decision-making, but it was also largely because of the stars being in the lineup.
With a healthy roster, it's going to be important that MWP knows his role. Making open jumpers is going to be important, but avoiding bad shots will be crucial to this team's success.
The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed Pau Gasol back to the floor Friday night. Unfortunately, they couldn't get him a win in his return, and his play was underwhelming to say the least.
After missing 20 straight games, Gasol was held to just 20 minutes. During that time, he had trouble finding his shot, as he made just two of his 10 attempts, and his passes weren't crisp—or even accurate at times.
On the glass, the seven-footer made an impact early. Eight rebounds in the first quarter got him going, but the problem was that he couldn't manage to grab any more the rest of the way.
Moving forward, conditioning and chemistry will be the two things this team needs to see. If his shot isn't falling, there's enough talent on the roster to make up the difference; but if his legs aren't there and his passes don't improve, that's where the team will have cause for concern.
Dwight Howard was active in this game, and it was clear that he was going to have a good showing from the opening minutes.
To begin the contest, Howard was swallowing up every rebound that came his way. Washington's bigs didn't show a lot of effort boxing out, and the center took full advantage.
He finished with 15 boards on the night, with 13 of them coming on the defensive side.
On offense, Howard was scoring with efficiency, but the bigger story was that the Lakers were looking his way. Getting him going early is the best way to challenge the defense, and as a result, he scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
Kobe Bryant was the biggest reason Howard shot well. The 2-guard drew in defenses with his mastery of isolation basketball, and as a result, the big man took advantage of good looks at the rim.
Antawn Jamison may not have had the best showing off the bench against the Washington Wizards—that belonged to Jodie Meeks—but he played a well-rounded game Friday night.
In 18 minutes, the forward scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He was scoring from different spots on the floor, and he was playing well early in the contest.
On defense, Jamison played with a ton of effort. He blocked one shot on the night, but he impacted a number of possessions with his willingness to crowd opponents in the paint.
By staying down low, he also set himself up on the boards. He grabbed seven when it was all said and done, which was better than any one player on the Wizards' roster.
It's not a secret that the Los Angeles Lakers' bench has been a topic of discussion for all the wrong reasons. The shallow second unit has struggled to keep up with its opponents, but against the Washington Wizards, this group might have had its best showing of the season.
In the first quarter alone, Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks combined for 19 points. They were shooting well and scoring quickly, and they gave fans hope that the pressure won't be solely on the shoulders of the starters moving forward.
Coming into the contest, it was reasonable to question what Earl Clark's role would be with Pau Gasol back in uniform. He ended up playing just seven minutes, but he scored five points in quick fashion.
The best showing came from Jodie Meeks, who scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and did a solid job getting back on defense when Washington pushed the tempo.
The reserves as a whole needed to lock down better on defense, but they did a good job of impacting the game in a positive way.