- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES – The Washington Wizards on Wednesday night earned a solid victory over the Sacramento Kings and headed to Los Angeles, where they hoped to build on that win with a strong performance.

The only problem: It was the Lakers that awaited them at Staples Center, and more evenly matched Clippers. And the Wizards, already undermanned, have had a tough enough time when playing consecutive games even when they’re facing weaker opponents.

“You have to take a look at what the task was,” Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said afterward. “First it was back to back, and if that back to back was against a team like the Kings, or some other team like that, I would’ve liked our chances a lot more. Instead it was the Lakers, who were in the Finals last year and are again one of the elite teams in the league.”

Thus made for a 117-97 thrashing by the Lakers, and the Wizards, who found themselves outdone in every statistical category, fell to 9-33 on the year.

“They broke us down and beat us up,” Tapscott said. “I tip my hat to them. They play the game at a very high level and they sustain that level.”

That very high level featured the Lakers (34-8) posting seven players in double-digits, outrebounding the Wizards 41-36, notching a season-high 35 assists and shooting 53.6 percent from the field. The Wizards, meanwhile, managed only four double-digit scorers, and two of them got the majority of their points in garbage time. And Washington notched 24 assists, but turned the ball over 15 times and didn’t have an answer for the Lakers in the paint.

A night after he abused the Clippers for 42 points and 15 rebounds in 36 minutes, Lakers center Andrew Bynum had a quieter, yet still dominant night, thumping the Wizards for a game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds. Wizards forward Dominic McGuire actually did a good job on L.A.’s Kobe Bryant, limiting him to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. But it didn’t matter because Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic picked up the slack while helping demolish the Wizards.

Washington forward Antawn Jamison, who entered the game averaging 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting in his previous four outings, attacked the Lakers with a vengeance, making five of his first six shots to tally 13 first-quarter points. But Jamison cooled off after that and scored only five points the remainder of the game.

And the Lakers as a whole were just as hot, making 12 of 19 field goals to take a 31-24 lead heading into the second quarter.

Then it got ugly for the Wizards.

The Lakers came out in the second quarter and made eight of their first nine shots while the Wizards made only two of nine. Aiding Los Angeles’ efforts was a series of defensive breakdowns on Washington’s part, which either left the lane unprotected, or opponents unguarded on the perimeter.

Starting off the quarter was a wide open 3-pointer from Sasha Vujacic, then Lamar Odom floated into the lane and threw down an authoritative jam, and teammate Trevor Ariza followed that up with a 3-pointer and then a dunk of his own to give the Lakers a 41-26 lead three minutes into the quarter.

A timeout was called by Washington, but it didn’t solve the defensive lapses, and the Lakers kept rolling. With 7:34 left in the quarter, the Lakers came down the court and when Pau Gasol ventured into the paint, both Jamison and rookie center JaVale McGee both converged on the 7-foot Spaniard, and in the process left Odom unimpeded to soar down the lane for another dunk.

Two minutes later, both Jamison and McGee were standing in front of the lane, arms extended upward and Gasol caught a pass and still threw down in their faces.

By the time the first half ended, the Lakers had built a 72-47 lead over the Wizards after torching Washington with a .750 shooting clip from the field. The 25-point gaping hole the Wizards found themselves in marked a season’s worst mark, surpassing the 24-point deficit Boston built against the Wizards on Jan. 2. The Lakers’ 41-point second quarter and 72-point first half also marked season highs for a Washington opponent.

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