- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

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

The problem? Their opponent at Staples Center was the Lakers, not the lowly Clippers. The undermanned Wizards have had enough trouble playing weak teams on the second night of back-to-backs, let alone perhaps the top team in the Western Conference.

“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. Washington notched 24 assists but turned the ball over 13 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 Los Angeles’ 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 early, making five of his first six shots to tally 13 first-quarter points. But Jamison cooled off after that, scoring six points in the second quarter and none after halftime.

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

Then it got ugly for the Wizards.

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

Vujacic started the quarter with a wide open 3-pointer, then Odom floated into the lane and threw down an authoritative jam. 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.

The Wizards called a timeout, but that didn’t solve the defensive lapses, and the Lakers kept rolling. With 7:34 left in the quarter, the Lakers came down the court. When Gasol ventured into the paint, both Jamison and rookie center JaVale McGee converged on the 7-foot Spaniard, in the process allowing Odom to go unimpeded down the lane for another dunk.

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

By the time the first half ended, the Lakers had built a 72-47 lead over the Wizards by hitting 69.2 percent of their shots from the field before halftime. The 25-point hole was the worst of the season for the Wizards, surpassing the 24-point deficit Boston built Jan. 2. The Lakers’ 41-point second quarter and 72-point first half also marked season highs for a Washington opponent.

The Lakers cooled off in the third, making only nine of 24 shots from the field. But they still managed to outscore the Wizards 25-21 to extend their lead to 97-68 by the time the fourth quarter began.

The Lakers led by as many as 36 points, but with the game well in hand, they pulled their starters after three quarters — as did the Wizards. Washington’s reserves - led by 10 fourth-quarter points from McGee, who finished with a career-high 18 - made the score a bit more respectable, outscoring their counterparts 29-20 in the final period.

The Wizards on Friday will fly to Portland, where they will take on the Trail Blazers on Saturday.

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