Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers met at home against the Washington Wizards. D’Angelo Russell was the leading scorer with 28 points on 10-21 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds and 9 assists. This is obviously a much better outing than what Lonzo Ball produced (6 points 2-11 shooting, 8 rebounds, 10 assists); however, a wise old man once asked me, “… But did they win?”
The Wizards throttled the Lakers in their March home meeting, 119-108. The score doesn’t accurately portray the absolute dunk show John Wall and Bradley Beal put on. Both guards combined for 50 points on 21-41 shooting. There was celebrating, there were grimaces after nasty dunks, the Wizards did pretty much everything they wanted in that game. What were the Lakers going to do about it?
Flash forward to Wednesday night. The Wizards are extra excited to take it to the Lakers after Lavar practically guaranteed victory. Marcin Gortat, the Wizards veteran, fired back at Lavar, saying Wall was going to “torture” his son for 48 minutes. Why would he believe anything less? It was what John Wall and the Wizards did when they came to LA.
But it was going to be a different story this time. Both Wall and Beal would combine for 46 points, but it was Beal doing the heavy lifting. Wall shot a putrid 7-22 in the game. And it didn’t stop there. The Wizards were simply not allowed to do whatever they wanted to the Lakers this time around.
And it’s not like they didn’t try. Bradley Beal stared down Lonzo after having swatted his shot out of bounds in the 3rd quarter. It was Ball’s father who had been talking trash before the game, after all. Ball kept his composure, managing to move onto the next play. It was the veterans Caldwell-Pope and Lopez instead who came to his aid.
KCP and Lopez clearly play a different style of ball to understand that kind of behavior is not going to be acceptable if you are the opposing team. Beal stepped to the line where Caldwell-Pope greeted him with some banter. They could have been discussing how excited they both were about the upcoming release of Stranger Things on Friday the 27th, but I highly doubt it. Whatever Kentavious said to Beal, it caused the normally 80% free throw shooter to miss the critical second free throw, giving the Lakers another breath of life.
When Beal came out of a timeout and walked towards the Lakers bench, Walton asks, “What are you doing over here?” Beal ignores his comments and continues walking by the Lakers bench, where Lopez gets up from his seat to jaw in his direction. The broadcast pans away from the incident, but it’s a safe bet Lopez was most likely echoing his coach’s sentiments.
And it didn’t stop with the veterans. A newfound confidence could be found within the Lakers younger players as well. Kelly Oubre was clapping in the face of Brandon Ingram after having nearly stolen the ball from him. Ingram responded by scoring 11 points in the 4th quarter, en route to 19 points on 8-16 shooting. Remember that missed free throw by the boisterous Beal? KCP was doing the talking, but it was Randle who stepped early into the lane to further distract Beal during his routine.
It’s no surprise to me at all that the struggling Randle showed up when the game started getting scrappy. What did surprise me was how the rest of the Lakers responded in this meeting, especially considering how they went out with a whimper back in March. Last year, the big signings by Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were Timafey Mozgov and Luol Deng. But neither of these players saw the floor against the Wizards. In fact, the player with the most experience on the Lakers who actually played in the game was Corey Brewer, a then 9-year veteran.
And even had Jim and Mitch’s big signings played, what could they have offered the team in terms of support? Mozgov was lucky enough to still be in the league, and Deng was too nice of a guy to get in anyone’s face. But the additions of Lopez and KCP are different. Gone are the days of D’Angelo fighting fire with fire, and answering immature behavior with doses of his own (“Ice in my veins” anyone?). The youngsters can play with more confidence knowing they have some veterans who have their back when adversity rears it’s ugly head. They are learning from these veterans how to behave like professionals, and how to properly handle teams who do not conduct themselves in the same manner. Yes, I am implying these young Lakers are right now more mature than the playoff seasoned Washington Wizards.
Don’t believe me? Look no further than what hyped this game up in the first place. How did the Wizards respond to the now prophetic pregame tweet from Lonzo Ball’s dad, Lavar? Marcin Gortat, the team veteran, responded, not on the court, but on Twitter like a child. John Wall followed his veteran’s lead, and chose to speak out to the media, rather than let his game do the talking.
When did the Lakers do their talking? Watch Lopez and Caldwell-Pope in the 2nd half do their talking when the Wizards started flexing. Watch how aggressive Ingram got during his 4th quarter explosion, following Oudre’s overzealous clapping. Watch Ball ignore the entire Wizards team to hit the defensive boards, and carefully find his teammates for open shots (10:1 assist/turnover ratio). And most importantly, watch the two teams when the clock hits double zeroes to signal the end of the game. Both teams are young, but while one team simply needs to develop, the other has a lot of growing up to do.
To begin building anything, you need a strong foundation. Something to keep what you’re building from flailing away in the wind. What the Lakers had been lacking was a backbone. Thanks to Magic and Pelinka, and their additions of veterans Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers are looking like they finally have that base to allow the young talent on their team to develop.
All stats from the Wizards/Lakers games were taken, as always, from http://www.basketball-reference.com. I also realize we are only 4 games into this young season, and if we suddenly lose every game from here on out, I may be singing a different tune. For now, I like what I’m seeing. For now…