Lakers exploit talent disparity, beat Wizards, 115-103

Kobe Bryant, struggling lately with a broken finger, got plenty of help from his teammates, as four scored in double figures while Bryant dished out eight assists. The Lakers also shot nearly 59 percent.
Kobe Bryant, struggling lately with a broken finger, got plenty of help from his teammates, as four scored in double figures while Bryant dished out eight assists. The Lakers also shot nearly 59 percent. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Caron Butler was by himself, standing as the only impediment between Kobe Bryant and the basket in the fourth period. As Bryant made his move around him, Butler could hear the sellout crowd eagerly anticipating something special.

But before Bryant could explode toward the rim for a dunk, Butler wrapped his arms around his former teammate and made sure that he wouldn't make the nightly highlight shows -- and got booed by thousands of purple-and-gold-clad fans at Verizon Center.

"That's my boy," Butler said, "but I wasn't going to let him get that dunk."

Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards, fouling was the closest that they could come to making a stop against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. On many occasions this season, the Wizards have managed to ignore their shortcomings as a team and stage highly competitive games against the NBA's elite teams. Cleveland, Orlando and Portland have come to Verizon Center this season and left with losses, while Boston and Dallas had close escapes.

But on Tuesday night, the separation in talent between the Wizards and the defending champions was too great to overcome, as Washington was able to hang for about 15 minutes before losing, 115-103.

"It's frustrating because you show signs of being able to compete and bringing it, but you can't do it just against the great teams in the league. You've got to do it every night," Antawn Jamison said after scoring a game-high 27 points with nine rebounds, despite playing with a sprained right foot. "That's why we're where we're at."

The Wizards (14-30) have lost at least four in a row for the fifth time this season and will have two days before they hit the road to play the historically awful New Jersey Nets. After consecutive blowout losses to Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Wizards played inspired basketball with the exception of the second period, when they were outscored, 30-15. They shot 51.2 percent and outrebounded the Lakers by nine, but they allowed their opponents to shoot 58.7 percent from the floor.

"If we would've played as hard the past two games as we did tonight, we would've had a good homestand," Coach Flip Saunders said after the Wizards went just 2-4 on their longest homestand of the season.

Butler added 18 points and eight rebounds and Mike Miller, making his first start since Nov. 21, added 15 for the Wizards and surpassed 9,000 career points. Brendan Haywood and Randy Foye both had 11 points and Andray Blatche added 10.

The Lakers spent Monday afternoon at the White House, where they met with President Obama. They had been struggling of late, losing two of their first three games on this road trip, including a disappointing one-point loss in Toronto on Sunday. But they were well aware of the Wizards' knack for playing up to the level of their competition. So after withstanding an initial charge from the Wizards, they took control of the game before the first half ended.

Bryant and Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 26 points apiece. Bryant, who has been slumping of late while playing with a broken right index finger, excited an incredibly pro-Lakers crowd with every made basket. He also heard chants of "MVP! MVP!" nearly every time he stepped to the foul line.

When asked if he had ever received so much love on the road, Bryant smiled and said: "Not to toot my own horn, but 'Beep! Beep!' "

The Lakers also got contributions from the second unit, with Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom combining for 26 of their 38 bench points. Lakers center Andrew Bynum added 12 points, giving his team an 87-71 lead late in the third period.

The Wizards rallied to cut the deficit to nine points on a Jamison free throw, but the Lakers answered with two Gasol free throws, a Gasol turnaround bank shot and a Brown three-pointer. Gasol later tossed a lob to Odom (15 points) for an alley-oop that put the Lakers ahead, 112-94, and fans started to make their way to the exit.

"There is a reason they are the world champs," Saunders said. "You can see that they don't panic in situations. I'm sure they thought they were playing at home, as loud as it was."

The Wizards led, 29-26, when DeShawn Stevenson made a three-pointer with 1 minute 21 seconds left in the first period, but the Lakers countered with an Odom layup and a Bryant pull-up jumper and never trailed again. After Jamison made a floater in the lane to bring the Wizards to 34-33, Odom made a hook shot and jumper to ignite a 14-4 run over the next 5 1/2 minutes.

"It was a tough challenge. They are the world champs and tonight they came out and played like it," Butler said. "But this is something that we are not going to get accustomed to, losing games, feeling like that after every game. This is something that has to turn around."

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