Monday, March 22, 2010 12:16 am
By Dave Johnson
CSNwashington.comLos Angeles--It was never going to be an easy road trip for the Washington Wizards. That reality was driven home with a hard finish to a four-game western swing in a 99-92 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.As hard as the Wizards competed in the second half, they paid the pricefor a bad second quarter and suffered their eleventh consecutive loss.It could have been worse, but the Wizards showed again the fight and determination that has become a hallmark of this revamped team. Off the bench, Nick Young led the Wizards with 22 points including 17 in a second half that saw the Wizards outscore the Lakers 59-40.The Wizards needed that response after only scoring 33 points in the first half. Instead of fading away the Wizards shot 61 percent from the field in the third quarter and started to make some real noise in the fourth quarter when theypulled to within eight points at 94-86 with 1:59 remaining in the game.While the Wizards second half surge made some Lakers fans squirm, the home team was very much in control. The Lakers were able to hurt the Wizards on the inside where Pau Gasol finished with a game-high 28 points and the outside where the Lakers were 9 of 17 beyond the arc.It also should be noted that the Lakers were able to still close the game even with Kobe Bryant, who was not hurt, on the bench for the final four minutes. The Lakers did fail to score 100 points and thus reward fans with free tacos.Underdogs on paper and undermanned on the court the Wizards, after a fairly competitive first quarter, were overwhelmed by the Lakers defense and Bryants shooting in the second quarter. Bryant scored 20 of his 24 points in the second quarter when the Lakers outscored the Wizards 35-15.Perhaps lost in all the glitter surrounding the Lakers is their strength on defense. Lamar Odom played the lead role in double-teaming Andray Blatche and Bryant blanketed Mike Miller. At half the Blatche and Miller, the Wizards top two scoring options, were 3 of 15 from the field.To both Blatche and Millers credit they found ways to get involved in the Wizards improved second half Blatche finished with 16 point and 12 rebounds and Miller added 11 points. The games and cities seem to blur together but what is clear is the Wizards desire to compete and the players eagerness to impress. The team certainly wants to win but this is also a time of discovery as the Wizards prepare for the start of a new future in the off season.Clearly Blatche has just seized the opportunity of more playing tome and is not looking back. Since the All-Star break when he replaced the departed Antawn Jamison, Blatches scoring production has increased by close to 15 points a game.Blatche has gone through growing pains with the increased time and has faced more double-teams, but he is getting better at dealing with that extra pressure. In addition Blatche is not just relying on his step-back fade-away in the lane and is driving more to the basket.The Wizards are learning more about Shaun Livingston who is still trying to resurrect his NBA career three-years after he suffered a horrific knee injury while playing with the Clippers.It was on this trip that Livingston replaced Randy Foye as starting point guard. Livingston does not have the explosive first step he once had but still has a calming influence while running an offense and his 67 size provides match-up challenges for opponents.The trip also served as breakthrough for Alonzo Gee. The undrafted rookie-forward from Alabama earned not only more playing time but a second ten-day contract. While it is too soon to think long term about Gee, unearthing potential gems that were passed over is part of a teams rebuilding.Gee, at 6'6, actually plays bigger than he is and not only rebounds but finishes not only with strong put-backs but explosive drives to the basket. Gee was also effective in defensive assignment against the Nuggets Carmelo Anthony and the Trail Blazers Brandon Roye.