By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008
The Washington Wizards allegedly played a home game yesterday, but it was impossible to tell late in the first quarter after Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drained a long jump shot and celebrated by patting Wizards all-star Caron Butler on his backside while jogging back on defense.
Bryant meant no disrespect -- the two have been friends since they were teammates with the Lakers for the 2004-05 season -- but the gesture illustrated how the afternoon went for the Wizards, who never led in a 103-91 loss in front of a sellout crowd that included a healthy portion of fans cheering for the visitors.
They came early to encourage Bryant and his teammates during warmups and they stayed late to catch a glimpse as the Lakers (30-16) walked off the court with a victory.
In between, Bryant gave his fans plenty of reasons to cheer as he rolled through one Wizard after another en route to scoring 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting with six rebounds and a pair of assists. Handling Bryant was only one problem for the Wizards, who shot 43 percent from the field and repeatedly looked a step slow defensively.
The Lakers shot 56.2 percent, racked up 27 assists and didn't even need their newest player, 7-footer Pau Gasol, who was acquired in a trade from Memphis on Friday, because has yet to go through a full practice and has also been bothered by a sore back.
"We didn't play as well as a group as we needed to beat the Lakers or anybody," said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who wore the 1982 NBA championship ring he earned as a Laker.
"We didn't get enough passion from everybody, we didn't get enough concentration from everybody. There's no way we're going to win unless we hold people to under 43 or 44 percent shooting, we get six guys in double figures, we out-rebound people -- that's how we have to win and to do that, we have to get intensity from everyone."
The Wizards (24-22), who have lost three straight and six of their past 10, haven't been following Jordan's formula for victory at all lately. Even the return of Butler, who missed three games with a strained left hip flexor, couldn't make the game close.
Butler finished with 15 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds but never found a rhythm and had his hands full trying to defend Bryant after DeShawn Stevenson picked up three first-quarter fouls.
Butler even saw his string of consecutive made free throws end at 73 when he missed the first of two late in the third quarter.
Bryant drove and drew a foul on Stevenson on the game's first possession, made a 19-foot fade away jumper with Stevenson all over him the next time down the floor and went on to score 19 first-period points as the Lakers built a 30-15 lead.
The Wizards cut the deficit to nine on a three-pointer by Roger Mason Jr. (14 points on 6-of-11 shooting) with 7 minutes 57 seconds left in the second quarter but that proved to be only a temporary respite as the Lakers closed the first half on a 25-12 run.
They did it with healthy doses of Bryant but also received contributions from Lamar Odom (14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and Vladimir Radmanovic (15 points).
All nine Lakers scored during the second quarter, when they shot 73.7 percent.
"We have grown a lot together," Bryant said. "We understand how to play with each other. Chemistry and knowing where guys are is the key. We were able to move the ball almost blindly today."
Lately, that kind of chemistry has been missing at both ends of the floor for the Wizards and the troubles began with a 121-85 loss at Cleveland on Jan. 23. In that defeat and others to Toronto (122-83) and Utah (96-87), the Wizards have played with little of the cohesion and grit they showed in beating teams such as Boston and Dallas.
"Right now, with these games we've been losing, everybody is giving us a big punch and when they give us that punch, we hang our heads," Stevenson said.
"Today, with Kobe coming out like a scoring machine, we didn't respond the way we did in the Boston wins, the Dallas wins and other wins we've had. We can't be waiting for those punches to come against a caliber of team like that."