Something looked weird at Verizon Center tonight; an oddity of sorts in these uncertain days – SMILING FACES. We’d forgotten what Kobe Bryant’s signature smirk looked like; wondered where Dwight Howard’s happy-go-lucky persona had gone; didn’t know when Metta World-Peace’s random comical remarks would make their re-appearance. All it took was a victory. No matter the opponent…no matter the arena – when you’ve lost four in a row like the Lakers have, getting any win means something.
The Lakers, starting Devin Ebanks and sitting out Jordan Hill who was experiencing back spasms, opened the game with a 9-point lead, a welcome change since they’ve been so accustomed to getting blown out to start and then having to catch up the rest of the way. They even led by as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter. But just when you think they’re about to blow out the lowly Wizards, they revert back to some bad habits, allowing the lead to dwindle and essentially offered hope to the other team. This issue has proven costly of late, but tonight they managed to hold on with some defensive effort and a boost from a sharp shooting reserve.
Jodie Meeks – Perimeter scorer – that’s what Meeks’ role was/is on this team. Despite the Lakers’ losing streak of late, however, Meeks has shown that he can do more than just hit a corner three. Since being given the opportunity to play more (after wasting away at the end of the bench under Mike Brown), Meeks has proven to be an energy guy off the pine, on both sides of the court. Tonight he rebounded his own miss and scored on a layup. In the third quarter, he stole the ball and sprinted to the other side for another layup. He followed that up in the next possession by hitting a three. He finished with 24 points (a high since joining the team) on 9-14 from the field, 4-7 from downtown, five rebounds, an assist and three steals.
Metta World-Peace – 13 points, six rebounds, a pair of dimes, three steals and zero turnovers – who knew MWP would be as steady and dependable as he has been this season? It’s not a stat line to brag about, but like Meeks, it’s his energy, plus the pride he takes in playing defense. With just under two minutes left in the game, Jordan Crawford grabbed the offensive board and passed it to Bradley Beal. MWP trapped Beal on the side and forced him to travel. After possession was awarded to the Lakers, MWP walked towards their side of court – just the end of another day’s work for him on defense.
Dwight Howard – Early foul trouble typically takes players out of the game, but Howard found a way to manage his time on the floor and still make an impact without fouling out. His 12 points and 14 rebounds aside, he also had four blocks and a number of altered shots that aren’t noted on the box score.
Kobe Bryant – 30 points and seven assists is certainly nothing to scoff at, but taking 29 shots and hitting just nine of them is. We have to hand it to Kobe though – despite that awful shooting percentage, he led the team with a +17, back spasms and all. 88 minutes total in back-to-back games, but Bryant said he asked to play in the fourth because he wasn’t tired. Different kind of human, this guy.
Every Bit Helps – With Jordan Hill sitting out, the Lakers’ injury count is up to four, so Mike D’Antoni has had to shuffle and reshuffle playing time among his players. It’s one thing that sets him apart from Phil Jackson (not to mention Mike Brown). He gives players chances and they’ve provided assistance. Tonight, Devin Ebanks started and chipped in eight points and five rebounds. Chris Duhon has been a relatively solid starting PG, adding another five assists to his collection this season. With Howard in foul trouble and Hill out, Robert Sacre got some burn and chipped in four points, four rebounds, a block and some good ol’ fashioned energy.
Win – The biggest high point is, of course, the victory. They’ve been few and far between for the team this season so each one is gold.
Lead Losers – They just can’t help themselves. After a 21-13 lead in the first quarter, the Wizards went on a 12-6 run and got to within two points. In the following quarter, the Lakers’ lead turned into a nine-point deficit. Thank goodness Jodie Meeks scoring eight straight points and MWP closing the half with seven points of his own. The 16-point lead in the fourth quarter reduced to as little as three points with over five minutes left in the game. The Lakers managed to recover, but flashbacks of the loss in Houston came to mind.
* That’s all for the low points tonight. Heck, the Lakers won the game. Let’s not dwell on it.
From the nation’s capital, the Lakers head up to Philly to play the 76ers and reunite with their old pal, Andrew Bynum. He won’t be in uniform, which is anti-climactic, but he’ll probably be there. Here’s hoping the Lakers can start a new streak…the good kind…the one that keeps them smiling.