Los Angeles Lakers v Washington Wizards

Lakers snap four-game losing streak with win over Wizards


It’s been an ugly stretch for the Lakers recently. With the team losing four straight and six of its last seven, a win by any means necessary would be welcome in Los Angeles — even against the team with the league’s worst record, the Washington Wizards.

Thursday night’s destruction at the hands of the Knicks was a low point, but heading into Washington presented its own set of challenges.

The Lakers were playing the second night of a back-to-back, and playing a Wizards team that starts the likes of Chris Singleton and Martell Webster isn’t exactly as exciting as facing Carmelo Anthony in Madison Square Garden.

But the Lakers can’t afford to be overlooking any opponent these days, and to their credit, managed to get out to the strong start that eluded them the night before against the Knicks. L.A. forced nine first-quarter turnovers and led by as many as nine early, before Washington closed the gap.

The Wizards got out to a nine-point lead of their own before halftime, behind 12 second-quarter points from Cartier Martin. Jodie Meeks had 12 in the period for the Lakers, and seven points late from Metta World Peace helped L.A. get the lead back by halftime.

This game was won in the third quarter — or, perhaps more appropriately, it was lost there. Washington shot a dismal 20.8 percent from the field in the period, making five of its 24 shot attempts while scoring just 14 points.

The Lakers didn’t make it easy on themselves, and Kobe Bryant was the main reason why.

Bryant finished with 30 points, but it took him 29 shot attempts to get there — as many as Dwight Howard (8), Devin Ebanks (10) and Metta World Peace (11) combined. By all accounts he was shooting way too much, especially when you consider he was playing through back spasms for the second consecutive game.

Bryant did manage seven assists, but when dominating the ball in that way, it’s almost impossible not to. He made just nine field goals, and finished just 1-of-8 from three-point distance.

Meeks was a bright spot off the bench for the Lakers, and finished with 24 points in 30 minutes, on an efficient 9-of-14 shooting. Ebanks proved to be a better option defensively in the starting lineup given his activity level, and Mike D’Antoni went nine deep into his bench, with Robert Sacre and Darius Morris each chipping in limited contributions in about 15 minutes apiece.

This is no way to get the team’s offense back on track, however, with Bryant in full-blown chucker mode, and with his teammates largely uninvolved — especially when he continues to force up shots when they simply aren’t falling. But for the Lakers, falling to this Wizards team would have been unacceptable even by their vastly lowered standards, so they’ll gladly take this win no matter how questionable the means were to that end.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.