- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Wizards understood that for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the seats at Capital One Arena would be filled with people in gold and purple jerseys eager to see LeBron James.

Los Angeles, after all, is arguably the NBA’s most popular team and the franchise added the world’s best player in James this summer.

But on a night when Lakers fans invaded the Wizards’ arena, it was Washington star John Wall who gave the team’s faithful something to cheer.

Wall had a season-high 40 points and 14 assists in the Wizards’ 128-110 blowout win over the Lakers, helping Washington snap a four-game skid. The Wizards star was explosive, attacking the basket repeatedly.

James had just 13 points  — a career-low against the Wizards — and six rebounds, shooting 5-of-16 from the field.

“Everybody out there was just playing with a lot of energy,” Wall said. “Probably because we were shorthanded, knowing we could get embarrassed playing against LeBron, knowing there was going to be a lot of Laker fans out there. So I think we got up for the game.

“We have to find a way to get up for those teams that’s not the Lakers or the Warriors or those dominant teams in the East and the West. When we figure it out, then we’ll be one of those teams that people can start taking seriously and be more consistent.” 



A day earlier, the Wizards (12-18) shook up its roster  — trading Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for forward Trevor Ariza.

Washington hopes Ariza, who spent two seasons with the Wizards from 2012-14, will help solve some of its problems, ranging from defense to chemistry. Bradley Beal said Saturday that the 33-year-old Ariza provides “veteran’s presence we need.”

The trade meant giving up on Oubre and Rivers, both of whom will be free agents after this season. Oubre, in particular, was seen as the team’s most valuable trade bait outside its main core, and the Wizards opted to cash in by opting for potentially a short-term rental, as Ariza is also on an expiring contract.

Oubre and Rivers, too, were inconsistent. Both struggled with their roles, with Rivers, who was acquired over the summer, never finding a rhythm off ball and Oubre frustrated with his streaky shooting and spotty defense.

“When your team is not doing well and you have better expectations for yourself and your team, we can’t just stand around and think that things are just all right,” coach Scott Brooks said before the game. “We haven’t played well, so there’s going to be some changes.”

Ariza, though, was not available against the Lakers since the trade won’t be officially completed until Monday.

That forced the Wizards to adjust. Forward Otto Porter Jr. also missed his third straight game with a right knee contusion, leaving the Wizards with an eight-man rotation (which became seven when Markieff Morris suffered an injury in the second quarter). The Wizards played 10 players total once Jordan McRae and Okaro White entered the game in garbage time.

But Wall’s energy offset any shortcomings the Wizards might have had from a roster standpoint. He was aggressive from tipoff, finding the open man and driving to the lane. He was even active defensively, finishing with three steals and two blocks.

The Lakers, too, were on the second night of a back-to-back and looked sluggish. The Wizards jumped out to a 24-8 lead midway through the first and led 71-51 at halftime.

Washington, in particular, was active on the defensive end and Los Angeles had 22 turnovers. Beal, who had 25 points, said they tried to send multiple bodies at James to prevent him from getting easy looks.

“It’s probably one of our best games of the year,” Brooks said. 

To end the first half, Wall drove to near the baseline and hit a shot over Tyson Chandler as time expired. As the crowd cheered, he celebrated — looking out to the crowd and slapping the hands of fans sitting courtside.

“I know all the Laker fans out there were probably upset,” Wall said. “But…”

Wall trailed off. He didn’t have to finish his sentence.

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