- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

The Washington Wizards suffered a 103-91 thumping by the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday in what was supposed to be a home game at Verizon Center.

But everything about the day screamed Purple and Gold.

The Lakers began their takeover 90 minutes before the game even tipped off. It started when the team’s newest member, Pau Gasol, gave his first press conference — in the Wizards’ interview room — since being traded to the Lakers on Friday. The buzz then proceeded down the hall as a large group of reporters pumped Lakers coach Phil Jackson on how Gasol would be implemented into the offense, when he would make his debut and how his addition would help the Lakers’ chances in the Western Conference.

During pregame introductions the Lakers fans outcheered their Wizards counterparts, and Los Angeles colors served as a prominent theme in the crowd of 20,173 — Washington’s 13th sellout of the season. Then Kobe Bryant and the Lakers went to work.

Bryant — who led the Lakers with 30 points — wasted little time, scoring 19 of his team’s 30 first-quarter points. DeShawn Stevenson, given the assignment of guarding Bryant early, proved an unworthy opponent, picking up three fouls while giving up 10 to Bryant in the first seven minutes. Stevenson went to the bench and Caron Butler — returning from a three-game absence with a strained hip flexor — guarded Bryant but did little slow him.

With 1:47 left in the quarter, Bryant hit a 3-pointer on Butler and then patted his former teammate on the butt as he turned to run down the court. On the Lakers’ next possession, Bryant posted Butler up along the baseline, gave a slight fake and then spun to his left for a layup, giving Los Angeles a 30-15 lead.

“It’s hard. A caliber person like that, he’s gonna get a lot of key plays, and the refs are just gonna look at him,” said Stevenson, who along with starting point guard Antonio Daniels combined for just five points and two assists. “I got in foul trouble early, and a guy like that just changes the game around. The first quarter he just took the game in his hands, and we didn’t try to give a knockout punch back, and from there we lost the game.”

The Lakers (30-16) continued their domination in the second quarter as all but two players — Gasol, who did not dress, and Coby Karl — played in the game and scored while shooting 73.7 percent from the field. The Wizards (24-22) still struggled to keep the pace, however, and trailed 63-41 at halftime.

“You gotta compliment the Lakers. They work hard, put the defense on you and execute,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “They execute and get through the triangle, and they make reads and play through that system, and we just didn’t get a handle on it. They got backdoor cuts, open 3s, driving layups. I was just very disappointed that we didn’t get through the 48 minutes.”

The second half was more of the same, featuring a Wizards team that failed to gain ground on the Lakers, shooting just 35.3 percent from the field in the third quarter. The Lakers’ largest lead of the game was 26 points, which came 20 seconds into the fourth quarter when guard Sasha Vujacic’s layup gave his team an 88-62 lead.

When Bryant scored his 30th and final point with 7:15 left in the game, the fans started cheering “Let’s go, Lakers,” again drowning out the boos of the Wizards’ faithful.

With just less than five minutes left, Jordan pulled his last starter, Antawn Jamison, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds — his 27th double-double of the season.

Butler finished with 15 points, and Nick Young and Roger Mason Jr. added 14 points apiece. The other seven Wizards players combined for 27 points.

“We didn’t play as a group as well as we needed to play to beat the Lakers or anybody. We don’t beat anybody tonight,” Jordan said. “We had bail-outs, we had short cuts and not enough passion from everybody and not enough concentration from everybody.”

It was the second straight year the Wizards lost to the Lakers on Feb. 3. The 118-102 loss in 2007 kicked off a 4-7 month of February, following a 10-5 January. The Wizards were 9-6 last month.

Wizards report

Yesterday at Verizon Center

SEEN AND HEARD

The Lakers’ trade for Pau Gasol officially went through yesterday morning, and the 7-foot Spaniard gave his first press conference since being shipped out of Memphis for Kwame Brown, two first-round picks and two other players. The blockbuster move has whipped not only the NBA community into a frenzy but also Gasol’s supporters in Spain. Roughly 30 members of the Spanish media descended upon Verizon Center, cramming the Wizards’ normally comfortable interview room. The first seven minutes of Gasol’s 10-minute press conference were conducted in Spanish. Finally one of the American reporters interrupted and asked, “Now, what did you just say in all that?” Gasol laughed and said, “That’s a lot of rewinding to do.”

He went on to say, “I can’t believe what just happened. I am truly excited about what I am going through right now. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know anything about it. I found out after practice, and the next thing I know, three hours later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles. I am really excited, and I am trying to digest everything I am going through. I am ready to rock and roll.”

BY THE NUMBERS

73 Consecutive foul shots made by Caron Butler, a franchise record. The run ended with 17 seconds left in the third quarter when Butler, who had made his first three of the game, missed his first attempt since Dec. 28. Butler made the second attempt to start a new streak.

Mike Jones


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