Except the problem this season hasn’t been about work ethic. The Wizards, as evidenced Friday night, struggle to translate playing hard into results.
With 32-year-old CJ Miles out for the foreseeable future and scheduled to visit a specialist Monday about ligament damage in his left wrist, half of the Wizards’ rotation consists of players age 22 and younger. The inexperience makes running an offense a nightmare when going against an impossibly long and athletic team such as the Lakers.
Los Angeles, wiser, deeper and much more experienced with the second-oldest roster at the start of the season (average age of 29.07), blocked eight shots and stifled Washington’s shooting to just 10 for 37 from beyond the three-point arc. The Lakers led by 37 points in the third quarter.
“That’s the best team in basketball,” Coach Scott Brooks said of the Lakers. “The best team we’ve played all year now. Their record is 17-2 for a reason. They’ve got two of the best players in the league.”
The differences between the Lakers’ and Wizards’ rosters were striking. Los Angeles has a pair of MVP candidates in the frontcourt (LeBron James and Anthony Davis), four NBA champions in addition to James filling out the rotation (JaVale McGee, Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook) and a three-time defensive player of the year coming off the bench who’s content to grab rebounds and block shots (Dwight Howard).
And for the Wizards — well, they have players who grew up idolizing LeBron.
“It was crazy, you know,” Hachimura said of playing his first matchup against James. “Even before the game, I was kind of — it was weird. I’m in here, Staples Center and against one of the best players in the world and one of the best players in the league.”
Hachimura, the rookie from Gonzaga, had his moments Friday. He started aggressively against James, scoring three times in the opening quarter and finishing with 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting.
However, the three ex-Lakers who were traded away after their rookie year gave their former employers no reason to envy.
Center Thomas Bryant scored five points, only the second time this season he has not reached double figures. Backup Moritz Wagner couldn’t finish the game, limping off the court after twisting an ankle with 4:07 left. And though Isaac Bonga made a pair of three-pointers in garbage time, many in the Lakers’ large media contingent learned for the first time the correct pronunciation of his name (EE-sock), despite covering him last year.
While the Wizards search for name recognition, they have lost seven of their 11 games to teams with winning records. Roads victories in Minnesota (Nov. 15) and Phoenix on Wednesday show glimpses of potential. Still, nights such as Friday reveal the Wizards’ true weakness. It’s not playing hard; it’s simply not being able to match up against better and more established teams.
“The next game we play, the Clippers, they’re one of the best teams in the league, too,” Hachimura said. “We just got to play harder, and then we want to win the game, too.”