Defense has been the topic in the Nation’s Capital for easily the last week or so, especially over the last three games. The Washington Wizards hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. There were a few of big time blocks by John Wall (3 blocks), multiple deflections that led to the Wizards out running in transition. All things that resulted directly from their effort on the defensive end. Once Washington locked in on that part of the floor, the Lakers didn’t have a chance. The Wizards “Big 3” of Wall, Beal, and Porter combined for 65 points on the night. From a defensive standpoint, Washington held the Lakers to 36% from the floor and a chilly 13% from deep. Washington only gave up 30 plus points in one quarter against the Lakers, holding them to 18 in the fourth. Wall didn’t have his typical outing in terms of assists with just 5, but he made up for that by scoring 23 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.
“It was just our effort. We had to get back to playing defense and we know that when we do that we’re a great team.” – Bradley Beal, Wizards Guard
Things seemed a little different for the home team early on as Washington started the game with effort on the defense. After trading baskets to tie the game at 4 a pice, Washington raced to an 11-4 lead. The visiting Lakers immediately responded with a run and both teams traded baskets for the remainder of the period, so much so that Washington led by just 3 after getting a 7 point lead early on. Otto Porter Jr (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Bradley Beal(22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) got off to good starts with 12 and 9 points respectively. Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Lakers with 7 a piece.
The second quarter is where Washington made it’s move and it all started with defense. They used an 11-0 run to create separation, it was a unit led by Tim Frazier. For much of the season, he’s been trying to find his timing and place within the flow of the second unit. Against the Lakers, was the first game in which he seemed like the player Washington sought after. He was the floor general during that stretch with fellow second unit members on the court with either Porter of Beal on the court. He had 5 points and 4 assists in the period, but it seemed like so much more. The pace didn’t drop once Wall went out and Washington was able to get stops. It’s been a very long time since the Wizards had a backup point guard capable of providing stability for the second unit.
“It’s a start. It’s not solved, our defense, but it’s a start.” – Scott Brooks, Wizards Head Coach
While Frazier started the season slow due to missing preseason, he was trying to find his rhythm over the course of the first 10 games. Against the Lakers, he looked like he had found his timing. He was aggressive and under control, very vocal in organizing his teammates on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Previously he had been hesitant to take shots, especially jump shots, That wasn’t the case as he kept the defense honest, even hitting a step back jumper with the shot clock winding down. It was a great glimpse at what Washington now has behind Wall, Frazier would finish the game with 7 points and 5 assists while going 3-for-3 from the field.
The Wizards won that quarter 34-22, holding the Lakers to 35% shooting from the floor and 20% from beyond the arc. Washington however, shot 62% from the floor and 66% from three point land. It was a great example of what getting after it on that end of the floor can do for a team, that effort resulted in a lead.
For the first few minutes of the third quarter, the Wizards looked as if they had reverted back to the defensive standard for much of this season. Then Wall led a defensive clinic, sparking the Wizards and helped them keep their lead over the visitors. The Lakers scored 21 points in the quarter, but 12 of them came from the foul line as they shot just 21% in the period. When Wall’s flying around the court, using his athleticism for good or evil depending on who you’re rooting for, the Wizards are a very good defensive team.
“I think we mentally gave in a little bit. Our guys were trying. It’s hard… I mean flew. Not to make excuses but we fly across the country to play two of the best teams in the East. I mean these teams are going to be playing, competing for Eastern Conference titles later this year.” – Luke Walton, Lakers Head Coach
Los Angeles couldn’t replicate the performance they had when these two teams met a few weeks ago. They were on the second night of a back-to-back, but they still played with enough effort from a physical standpoint. They looked to have been taken out of it from a mental standpoint during the second and third quarter runs by Washington. Their talented trio of youngsters Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball shot a combined 10-for-34 from the field and 1-for-10 from long distance. Normally a team with good ball movement, Los Angeles had 19 turnovers and 17 assists against Washington, very hard to win gams like that when coupled with their offensive performance.
There wasn’t much left for Washington to do in the final period, the starters went out with about four minutes to go. The second unit took care of what business Washington had left. The Wizards host Atlanta on Saturday night as their home stand continues.