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The good news prior to tipoff is that I burned 200 calories while trying to find my press seat. It’s actually a fine view from the corner of the floor about halfway up in the lower level, but it realistically took me 12 minutes to find it after walking out of the media room.
Not trying to complain or anything, but the guy singing the National Anthem took like six minutes to pump it out, taking care to change the inflection of his voice three times per note. Is it unpatriotic to be sick of the Anthem two seconds after it starts?
Zephyrs* Dee Brown, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and JaVale McGee
Lakers Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
*The Wiz are wearing super old school jerseys in honor of when they were the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962, before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Bullets in 1963.
It was fun to hear the PA announcer say “Mr. Tough Juice” instead of just “Tough Juice” when introducing Butler. That’s my favorite nickname in the NBA by far, I must say, and Spero Dedes promised me he’d say it on the KLAC broadcast. Don’t fail me, Spero…
The Lakers didn’t miss a shot until the 8:32 mark of the period, when the score was already 16-7 thanks to five consecutive makes from Gasol, Fisher (a three), Bynum (alley-oop from Kobe), Vladi (three) and two Fisher free throws.
It was Vladi who finally missed consecutive threes, though the second was cleaned up by Bynum for an early 18-7 lead. ‘Drew got his fourth bucket of the quarter moments later, spinning around McGee quite easily and finishing off the glass, before Bryant passed the ball to himself off the backboard* and fed Gasol for an open jumper that gave the Lakers 22 points in under six minutes. I’d say the offense looks fine.
*That’s the second time on this trip that Kobe’s passed the ball to himself off the glass, the first coming when he scored himself in Indiana after depantsing (made up word) Kareem Rush. For fantasy purposes, tonight’s counted as a missed shot, an offensive board and an assist.
By the way, this crowd seems heavier on Lakers fans than Wizards (oops, Zephyrs) fans tonight … It’s sort of like going to Camden Yards for an Orioles – Yankees game.
A Washington timeout at the 3:05 mark had the Lakers leading 28-17, with Bynum leading all scorers with his 10 points on six attempts from the field. During that timeout, the Wizards posted a question on the scoreboard asking fans to text in the answer.
Q: What does the word Zephyr mean?
A) Ray of light
B) Burst of wind
C) South American animal
I mean, of those three options, obviously the answer is B. But a zephyr is actually a breeze from the west, or a west wind. I don’t really appreciate Washington’s game ops department misleading their fan base like that.
The quarter closed with the Lakers casually strolling to a 35-24 lead, shooting 57 percent while holding the home team to 37.5 percent from the floor. Obviously that’s bad, and it would be easy to credit L.A.’s improved defensive effort from the last two nights … But Washington is also bad, so we shouldn’t read too much into it. Alas, the Lakers got seven points from Fisher, six from Kobe, Bynum’s 10, nine from Gasol and a triple from Vladi. L.A. lost the rebounding battle 13-12 due to four Wiz offensive glass cleans, and forced four turnovers while committing just two.
Five straight points from Jamison and an Etan Thomas bucket capped a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, bringing the Wizards within four after the Lakers had led by as many as 16 in the first quarter. L.A.’s second unit, getting outworked for a few minutes, quickly responded with a Farmar three and two Ariza free throws to push the lead right back to nine. random here, but something else that crossed my mind is the Lakers have barely had even one player in foul trouble this season, which I thought of as Bynum picked up his second foul early the quarter. In other news, Vujacic picked up the 12th block of his career while swatting Nick Young from behind.
The second unit simply wasn’t good, getting outscored 16-8 with Bryant out of the ball game. So, Bryant and Gasol checked back in with the Lakers up 41-33, only to see the Wizards continue to play well in closing the lead to just three at 44-41 at the 5:05 mark. More troubling still was that Washington made 8-of-10 shots to start the quarter. And to be honest, they were getting similar easy looks in the first quarter (translation: the defense hasn’t been great).
Along those lines, L.A.’s runs tonight have come from offense, not defense, which is why the Lakers weren’t able to sustain a big lead once the Wizards started to make some shots. Still, L.A. managed to sneak into the locker room with a five-point lead, 58-53, thanks mostly to 25 combined points from Bynum and Gasol, and specifically, a Bynum swat of Butler at the half’s close. Of equal importance to L.A.’s playing better defense is if I can find some ice cream in the Wizards Media Room. Cross your fingers…
Bad news: they did have ice cream (first road arena this year!) but I got into a conversation that lasted most of the half, then forgot about the ice cream. Idiot. Fortunately, the conversation was quite funny, as Tony Reali (of “Around the Horn” and “PTI” fame) is a close friend of our own Spero Dedes. The two called games together at Fordham a few years back, and as such, Spero and I spent a few minutes chatting with Reali. Since the game’s about to start, let me just say that Reali’s wit is immediately apparent in conversation. In other words, it’s not a coincidence that he’s already doing so well for himself at ESPN.
The Wizards made a personnel change at the half, starting Antonio Daniels instead of Dee Brown. Unfortunately for the Wiz, L.A. started playing much better defense to open the quarter and took a 69-58 lead after three minutes. Daniels played a key role for the Wizards in years past, but has struggled with injuries this season – though apparently he’s starting to feel better?
After Vladi’s second three-pointer of the quarter, Gasol up-faked the stuff out of Stevenson, then threw down a slam on the other side of the rim to give L.A. a 12-point lead that would quickly grow to 15 after another good defensive possession and a Fisher triple. That was more like it…
Like Coke or Pepsi and Super Pretzles, the “Kiss Cam” is a staple in every NBA Arena, though Washington had a clever little spin during a timeout, showing Sasha Vujacic and Chris Mihm on the Lakers bench. Vujacic didn’t seem to mind, but Mihm’s face had an expression on his face that I’d liken to the look Stephon Marbury had on his face when Mike D’Antoni asked him to go into that Pistons game (I’m guessing?).
As I was trying to think of what Mihm’s face looked like, Radmanovic nailed his fourth triple of the game and third of the quarter to put the Lakers up 20 at the 4:28 mark, meaning L.A. had outscored the Zephyrs 27-12 to start the third quarter. I think the 12, not the 27, is what’s going to make L.A.’s coaches happy.
Odom, Farmar and Ariza checked in at the 3:35 mark, and I kept an eye on those three in particular as they weren’t too effective in the first half. Odom first committed a foul on three-point shooting Stevenson (not good, though DeShawn somehow missed all three shots); Odom then cleared a rebound, but turned it over by throwing an alley-oop to Ariza too high; moments later, Farmar missed his second consecutive jumper; then Ariza cleared a defensive board and missed a three at the other end before almost picking off a pass back on D (getting bored of this yet?); Farmar conceded a jumper from Nick Young, then turned the ball over with a bad pass; (finally a good play coming!) Ariza stripped Stevenson and fed Kobe for a NASTY double-pump reverse jam.
I’m tired, hold on a second…
Odom would go on to foul Jamison, whose two free throws made it 87-72 Lakers, and Ariza closed the quarter with another miss in the lane. So, after all that, the Lakers scored just two points and the Wizards four. Ouch. Glad I provided the play-by-play.
Yet and still, the Lakers held Washington to 19 points in the quarter, which we’ll take.
Before the game in my audio preview with Trevor Ariza, I asked him if he were interested in trying a new kind of dunk on his inevitable breakaway attempt after a steal. He said no. Sure enough, after picking Butler’s pocket, Ariza gave us his patented two-handed behind-the-head power slam to make it 99-80. It’s cool, Trevor, don’t worry about it. That was fine.
The Wizards would respond with a quick 10-0 run, including a three-pointer and a three-point play from Daniels, to draw within nine with about six minutes to go. A non-highlight of that stretch was Vujacic’s three fouls in about 1:30 seconds. Jackson called timeout at the 5:41 mark after Butler’s put-back layup, meaning it could be Kobe and Pau time.
The first Kobe-Pau possession produced three offensive rebounds after three missed shots, but the Lakers couldn’t capitalize as Bryant missed his third shot of the possession, all jumpers. Bryant would coax the refs into two free throws with an up-fake moments later, however, making his 11th and 12th of the game to get to 20 points (with seven boards and seven assists). Ariza would add a dunk on a pretty Gasol pass (17, 10 and six for Pau, by the way), but Odom missed two free throws to keep the lead at 103-96 with 2:24 to play.
An ill-timed Wizards errant pass didn’t end up hurting the white jerseys as Kobe missed another jumper, and Blatche’s dunk preceded a Gasol miss and two Butler free throws to cut the lead all the way down to three. Wow. One obvious problem for L.A. is that the Wizards were just packing the paint defensively, and the Lakers didn’t have any three-point threats on the floor to spread out the defense. Plus, Bynum wasn’t, so they couldn’t post him up either. The result was another Bryant jumper – a miss – and another Butler make for a ONE-point lead with about 35 seconds left.
Then, after bobbling the ball, Bryant finally hit a J after missing his first six shots of the quarter, giving the Lakers a 105-102 lead with 24.6 remaining. Remember when the score was 99-80? Since then, the Wiz had gone on a 22-6 run.
Washington got a put-back bucket, but the Lakers simply needed to make free throws to close it out, barring a Wizards three. Bryant, however, somehow missed the second of shots after sinking his first 13 of the evening, and the Wizards had a chance to tie or win.
And, like you might expect from Tough Juice, Butler went right for the jugular, clearing out for a three-point attempt at the buzzer. He missed by inches.
Lakers win, 106-104, after nearly blowing their second big fourth quarter lead to an Eastern Conference opponent with a losing record.