The basket swayed for a few moments after the earthquake known as Anthony Davis struck. Davis — all 6-foot-10 and 253 pounds of him — had missed his first attempt at a dunk and found 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis and 6-10 Daniel Gafford standing in his way the second time.
The skidding Washington Wizards ran into the streaking Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at Capital One Arena and lost, 130-119, thanks in large part to Davis playing bully ball in the paint and LeBron James playing bully ball everywhere else.
Unfortunately for the Wizards (11-13), who lost Bradley Beal early in the first quarter to what Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said was a right hamstring strain, they caught the Lakers (10-12) just as the visitors are figuring things out.
Sunday brought Los Angeles’s fifth win in six games, and Davis has powered much of the run — his season-high 55 points Sunday were massively impressive but far from unbelievable. Over the eight-game stretch leading into Sunday’s matchup, the center had averaged 32.9 points and 15.4 rebounds while shooting a devastating 63.1 percent.
How good is Davis these days? A one-handed, off-balance sling of the ball with less than five seconds to play in the third quarter circled the rim before dropping in. A staunchly pro-Lakers crowd showered him — more than once — with “M-V-P!” chants in the fourth quarter.
By the time he and James were just showing off with less than five minutes to play, it sounded like a Lakers home game. James had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Davis added 17 rebounds to his scoring haul. Russell Westbrook had six points, seven rebounds and 15 assists.
Asked to evaluate how the Wizards played defense against Davis, Kyle Kuzma was blunt.
“We didn’t,” he said. “It was very, very, very challenging. When those guys are healthy, ain’t too many people stopping their pick and roll.”
The Wizards came into Sunday’s game in the exact opposite position as the Lakers. They needed a win and instead wound up with their sixth loss in seven games, playing to the Lakers’ strengths with subpar transition work and troubled paint defense. Washington was allowing the league’s fifth-most points in the paint before it faced the Lakers, who feasted for 72.
Kuzma’s fourth-quarter play against his old team was a rare highlight — he went on a streak of scoring 13 straight for the Wizards as he worked his way to 26 points and seven rebounds — but he fouled out with 4:10 to play. Every time he had a nice dunk or hit a jumper, there was Davis or James waiting on the other end.
Porzingis led Washington with 27 points and nine rebounds but was slow to start with Davis staring him down. Beal scored two points in three minutes before he went to the locker room.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
Beal exits early
Beal subbed out with 8:31 to play in the first quarter and never returned. Unseld said he will be further evaluated Monday. The Wizards visit Chicago on Wednesday and Indiana on Friday.
Going the wrong way
Kuzma and Unseld said one key to turning things around is to remember that the Wizards have won in bunches before.
Kuzma said getting back to playing with pace and confidence while involving the role players is one formula for success. Porzingis said starting games with more edge and energy would help set the tone on defense.
“We should not overreact, but we need to understand that this is not who we’re going to be. We’re not — I’m not going to settle for that,” he said. “We want to demand more from ourselves. I want to be a winning basketball team. I want to be a winning basketball player and be on a winning team. So, yeah. Trust the coaching staff and figure it out.”
Gafford hits season high
One game after he logged a season-high six blocks in a loss at Charlotte, Gafford notched another milestone with a season-high 19 points. Unseld occasionally paired Gafford with Porzingis in an attempt to slow Davis in the paint; that was unsuccessful, but Gafford did seem to play more freely against the Lakers’ big man. He had a handful of muscular dunks and showed off his athleticism.
Ham returns to D.C.
Darvin Ham, the Lakers’ first-year coach, spent one of his eight seasons playing in the NBA with the Wizards. What he remembered most about the 1997-98 campaign he played alongside Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland was that the Wizards went 42-40 — and didn’t make the playoffs.
“I wish we had the play-in system back then,” Ham joked, adding that he still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates and team employees from that time. “Thinking about Wes’s father, who was the [general manager]. . . . [Sacramento Kings Coach] Mike Brown, who was the video coordinator at the time. Just John Outlaw, whose son J.J. works with [Cavaliers adviser Bernie Bickerstaff and Coach J.B. Bickerstaff] in Cleveland. So it’s just a lot of family ties, man, from that one year. It’s funny how our lives have come to all intersect. But this is one of my favorite cities in the world and one of my favorite places to come work and visit — just a lot of good memories. But it sucks because we had a really good team that didn’t make the playoffs.”
Ham wasn’t the only one making a return. The Lakers and Wizards have strong connective tissue dating from the July 2021 trade that sent Westbrook to Los Angeles and brought Kuzma to Washington, but the Wizards’ No. 15 pick in 2018, Troy Brown Jr., and former center Thomas Bryant also fill out the Lakers’ bench. Bryant, who began his career in Los Angeles, spent four seasons with the Wizards before returning to his team of origin.
Washington aired a tribute video to Bryant in the first quarter in honor of his first game back. He had four points, and Brown had six.