- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On a night where the crowd seemed to be squarely in support of the visitors from Los Angeles, it was the Wizards who pulled off the upset, defeating the Lakers 106-101 on Wednesday.

From the moment the ball was tipped, a sold-out Verizon Center, packed with fans clad in purple and gold, spent most of the first half cheering for the Lakers — and Kobe Bryant in particular. There were “MVP” chants for Bryant every time he went to the free-throw line.

By halftime, the defeated-looking Wizards trailed 64-49 and appeared to be on their way to a blowout loss as they went down by 21 early in the third quarter. But, the third ended up providing a huge momentum shift that turned the game in Washington’s favor.

The Wizards shot 61.9 percent, while the Lakers, on the second night of a back-to-back, went ice-cold, shooting just 23.5 percent. That helped translate into a 26-7 Wizards’ run, and they finished the third quarter down by just two points, 83-81. Washington eventually grabbed the lead, finally displaying the ability to close out a game. 

“I was beginning to wonder, maybe they couldn’t do these things,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s all it is. Preparation. Start to finish, even when we got down 21, we were doing the right things. We stayed in the game. That’s all we did.”

Back-up center Kevin Seraphin had the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 14 points and adding nine rebounds, while playing tough defense on the Lakers’ bigs, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

“Toughness, that’s it,” Seraphin said. “Just go out on the court and try to do what is asked [of] me, to do my thing and that’s it. I think everybody understands, we can’t not be focused. We have to keep going, try to be focused every time.”

The emphasis on focus began at the morning shootaround, which Wittman called the best the team has had all season. While several starters had a rough outing, it was the bench players who led the comeback and helped close out the game for the win.

Shelvin Mack (four points, two assists) ran the team well when John Wall (1 for 8 from the field, four points) struggled against the Lakers defense. Nick Young added 19 points and a career-high six assists, and Trevor Booker (18 points) added a steadily-improving offensive game to his already solid defense.

“They got some big guys,” Booker said. “We just wanted to be physical with them from the get-go. We knew at halftime that we had to make some adjustments and come out and play harder. They had a game last night, so we knew they were tired. We just kept fighting back, and they gave in.”

Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 30 points, but 20 came in the first half. By the second half, Bryant’s shot was off the mark, and he finished the game just 9 of 31 from the floor.

Wall had an off night, but he handed out nine assists — and credited the bench for the win.

“It wasn’t my night, so I just found my teammates, and they did a great job,” Wall said.

By the game’s final minutes, chants of “Beat L.A.” could be heard over the cheers for the Lakers. Wall enjoyed the moment.

“Just about any big game, the crowd is on the other side,” Wall said. “Every time we make it a game, the crowd always changes. That’s the main thing.”

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