Things to watch in Lakers-Wizards matchup
1. Look for a healthier and energetic Pau Gasol: A three-day stretch between games couldn't have come at a better time for El Spaniard. He appeared like he needed to refuel his tank after playing at least 40 minutes in five of the last six games. Though he scored 16 points on six of eight shooting in only 27 minutes in the Lakers' 113-80 victory Friday over Sacramento, he played with understandable caution so he wouldn't expose his strained left hamstring to further injury. Well, with the Lakers (14-6) hosting the Washington Wizards (6-13) at Staples Center on Tuesday night, there's no better opportunity for Gasol to show more spring than against a team that yields 105.6 points per game and holds the fourth-worst mark in defensive efficiency (108.4).
Gasol's ineffectiveness before Sacramento provided a trickle-down effect, where the Lakers didn't pass the ball inside enough, the Lakers' backcourt dropped in shooting percentage and the overall execution lacked the ball movement and rhythm fans were used to seeing. With Gasol rejuvenated, things should get back to order. Based on the Wizards' personnel, it appears going to Gasol first will be the good formula. Washington center JaVale McGee appears undisciplined and Kobe Bryant might see Kirk Hinrich forcing him to at least look for his shots. As Bryant demonstrated recently against Chicago, however, he'll make the opposition pay with the team's quick ball movement and effective cutting.
That remained absent during the Lakers' four-game slide, but it came back against a defenseless Sacramento and will happen again against Washington.
2. It's critical to give the Lakers' reserves some quality time. Gasol should be back on his game, but that doesn't mean he should log another 40-plus minutes. If he or any other starter has to play that many minutes Tuesday night against the Wizards, it means the Lakers experienced serious problems. Washington remains winless on the road this season at 0-10. The Wizards haven't beaten the Lakers at Staples Center since 2006, when Gilbert Arenas dropped a career-high and franchise-record 60 points. And Washington currently has gone 0-8 against teams with winning records. The Washington Post's Michael Lee explained in great detail how injuries to John Wall, Yi Jianlian, Al Thornton and Arenas have made it hard for the Wizards to formulate a definitive identity and rotation.
So rather than exerting more energy than necessary, the Lakers need to finish the game early and give the bench some playing time. They followed that formula against Sacramento, and it contributed to Shannon Brown returning his sharp shooting stroke, Derrick Caracter dropping career highs and Sasha Vujacic and Devin Ebanks realizing they're not just going to Laker games for free courtside seats.
3. How will the Lakers defend Washington in the open court? This issue won't suddenly leave the Wizards with a chance to upset the defending champions. The Wizards 19th overall in total offense (97.5 points), have the sixth-worst offensive efficiency rating (100.5), and Hoopdata.com shows shot locations have plagued Arenas and everyone else. With the Lakers pitting defense as their main area of improvement after 20 games, this should be a good exercise on how they stop the Wizards in transition and Wall at the point. This issue should never be solely squared on Derek Fisher, but both on him and his frontcourt on help defense. It appears that the Lakers have inconsistently addressed help in the lane and on screen-and-rolls by either switching up top or down low, exacerbating the poor communication. Should the Lakers lock into a specific philosophy, it'll be much easier to establish definitive rotations.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant draw a host of Washington Wizards defenders as he attacks the basket during the game Thursday night. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times