The Washington Wizards limped into Los Angeles last night, dragging their wounded with them. They leave the City of Angels with their heads held high, having just conquered one of the hottest teams in the NBA on their own court, 103-100. The Wizards played without two starters -- guard Bradley Beal [ankle] and center Emeka Okafor [flu] and key reserve guard AJ Price [groin], while the Lakers got healthier with the return of two stars, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. It is the second straight win for the Wizards, who improved their record to 25-43, 7-26 on the road. The Lakers' 7-game home winning streak came to an end. The win is Washington's first road triumph over the Lakers since 2006.
The Wizards were tentative to start the game and allowed a Lakers team that has been surging with confidence lately to jump on top of them quickly. Bouyed by 68% shooting, Los Angeles led 35-19 after one quarter, a 16-point lead they would still hold at halftime. Washington was getting decent looks in the first half, but they just couldn't put the ball in the hoop, while the Lakers had no problems scoring. Dwight Howard dominated early, as Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman saw his plan of putting Jason Collins on Howard falter immediately. Howard had no trouble getting good looks at the basket and wound up hitting 8 of the 9 shots he took all night.
The two teams both scored 22 points in the second quarter, sending the game to halftime with the Lakers up 57-41. Former Wizards teammate Antawn Jamison came off the bench in the first half to score 9 points on 4-5 shooting, but he would cool off in the second half.
The third quarter belonged to the Wizards and reserve forward Trevor Ariza, who hit a career-high 7 3-pointers to score 25 points on just 15 shots. He also grabbed 4 rebounds and dished 4 assists. The Wizards chipped away at the Lakers' lead, knocking it down from 16 to 11 as the teams entered the home stretch of the third quarter. That's when the Wizards exploded, finishing the third on an 11-2 run, punctuated by an Ariza 3-pointer and a sweet John Wall move that sent him blowing past local boy Steve Blake and into the paint for a beautiful layup. When the buzzer sounded to end the third, Washington had cut the LA lead to 74-72.
Ariza's hot hand bled over into the fourth quarter, as he knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 79 and then drove for a layup to give the Wiz an 81-79 lead with just under 9 minutes left in the game. The lead then shifted back and forth as both teams fought furiously for an advantage. Kobe Bryant [21 points, 11 assists], who was content to be a passer rather than a shooter for the first three quarters, suddenly took over for the Lakers and tried to carry the team over the finish line by himself. Bryant scored 13 of his 21 points in the final period and his back-to-back jumpers put the Lakers up 96-94.
However, the Wizards were far from done and Nene scored five of his 15 points in the final minutes. Wall fed Nene in the paint on back-to-back possessions and the Wizards big man hit hook shots over Dwight Howard [20 points, 15 rebounds] to put Washington up 98-96, a lead they would not relinquish. John Wall got fouled and calmly sank two free throws to put the WIz up 101-97, but Kobe Bryant came right back to hit a three pointer to cut the lead to 101-100. With two seconds left the Lakers fouled Wall again and once again he hit two free throws to put Washington up 103-100. Kobe Bryant's desperation 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim and the Wizards emerged with their victory.
"I've won twice against the Lakers, once at home, and just to come here and win my first game ever at Staples Center is great," Wall said. "We just knew what our team was, we're one of the top defensive teams, and when we play defense and play the right way, we have a chance. We just have a lot of heart and character."
Wall finished with 24 points and a career-high 16 assists, 6 rebounds and only one turnover. The young point guard continues to get better and better, making the case that the Wiz have no choice but to lock him up long term no matter what it costs. Martell Webster scored 13 points, Garrett Temple scored 10 and had 6 rebounds. Trevor Ariza wasn't the only one contributing off the bench -- Kevin Seraphin scored 12 points and pulled down 5 boards in 29 minutes.