The Washington Wizards (3-17) started off strong against the Los Angeles Lakers (10-14) Friday night, but their sluggish defense proved no match for Kobe Bryant’s 30 points and seven assists as they fell to the Lakers 102-96.
Among the 20,308 in attendance for the sold-out matchup were the Washington Nationals’ newly acquired outfielder Denard Span, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General Eric Holder, who met with players in the locker room after the game. Nonetheless, while the Lakers fans in attendance reached greater decibels than loyal Washingtonians at the start of the game, the crowd seemed more evenly split later in the night as the Wizards’ offense came to life.
“I’m used to it, I’m used to it,” said Martell Webster of the out-of-town fans after the game. “I saw it in Minnesota, I saw it in Portland. [The fans] showed up, we fed off the energy. It feels good regardless, you got a packed house…They were cheering for us, and there were a lot of cheers for [the Lakers] as well. It felt good, I love the energy.”
Nevertheless, the two teams seemed uncharacteristically on par with each other in more ways than fan turnout.
In the first quarter, the Wizards hit 50 percent of their shots from the field – and the Lakers, just 52.4 percent. Trailing 8-6, the Wizards gave up a three-pointer to Chris Duhon before allowing Dwight Howard to sink a nearly effortless dunk to give the Lakers a seven-point lead. Despite nine turnovers in the quarter, the Wizards entered the second trailing just 27-25.
In a matter of seconds, Cartier Martin tied it up with a three-pointer in the second quarter. He followed through with a layup and-1 before Kevin Seraphin tacked on another two points with a big jam of his own to make it 33-27 Wizards.
Martin went on to tally 12 of his season-high 21 points off the bench in the second quarter alone to keep the Wizards within one possession, trailing 58-55 at the half. He also managed eight rebounds and two steals on the night.
“[Martin] hasn’t come out of nowhere, he’s been struggling a little bit,” said head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “He came out tonight and made it. I’ve got confidence in these guys. With [Ariza] out, he’s getting minutes. And, you just base those minutes on how the game’s flowing.”
After Webster started things off again with a three-pointer, the Lakers went on a 10-0 run to regain the lead, 68-58.
With the Wizards down 76-64, Kobe Bryant drove for a layup with Webster on his tail, but as Webster tried to defend the shot, instead, he mistakenly tipped it in, ensuring two more points for the Lakers.
After chipping away at the Lakers’ lead to trail by just 88-79, Webster made up for the tip-in by finishing a monster alley-oop worthy of this week’s top-ten highlight reel. With the crowd still on its feet, the Lakers called a timeout to slow the Wizards who were back within seven points.
With just over 5:30 left in the game, Nene sunk two free throws to bring the Wizards back within a possession. However, Dwight Howard tacked on another two points for the Lakers, who seemed to have better luck earning officiating calls than Washington.
No call seemed more questionable than Webster’s shooting foul with 4:45 remaining. The replay revealed that Webster never even came into contact with Bryant, who earned – and made – all three of the foul shouts he received to put the Lakers up 97-89.
The damage proved too much to overcome as the Wizards never again trailed by fewer than six points.
Coming off Friday’s 102-96 loss, they face no easy task as they take on the Heat in Miami Saturday night.