LOS ANGELES — The Washington Wizards ended a 38-year title drought Tuesday night, rallying past the Los Angeles Lakers for a 119-108 win that earned them the Southeast Division championship, the team’s first division title since 1978-79.
Although taking the division no longer carries postseason significance, Coach Scott Brooks is taking the honor in stride.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Brooks said before the game, then joked: “Shall we break out the goggles?”
The Wizards (46-28) dug themselves a 14-point hole in the third quarter to the lowly Lakers (21-53), when the division championship seemed to pale in comparison to the team’s defense.
But John Wall seized the game in the third quarter finishing with a game-high 34 points to go with 14 assists. Otto Porter Jr., who started the game by making his first seven shots, finished with 16 points, a total matched by Bradley Beal.
Despite the offensive game, the Wizards could not control the opposing backcourt (D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson combined for 50) nor tame the young Lakers.
Although nothing about the current Lakers suggest the team has a will to win. Former No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram missed his second straight game with knee tendinitis and won’t return until the nagging pain subsides. Within the rotation, a former NBA D-Leaguer (David Nwaba) gets minutes while a young journeyman playing on his fourth team in three seasons (Tyler Ennis) runs the backup unit. Even so, these Lakers didn’t appear to be in tank mode against Washington and its shaky defense.
Through the third quarter, Los Angeles made 15 of 16 shots and dropped 37 points against the Wizards. Clarkson made all six of his attempts, including a pullup three-pointer in front of Kelly Oubre Jr. during the team’s last possession.
For the game, Los Angeles shot 50.6 percent and the Wizards made 51.1 percent of their looks.
Early in the first quarter, the Wizards opened a 12-point lead while Wall dazzled the Staples Center crowd. His left-handed dunk earned a replay on the scoreboard and, after tossing an alley-oop to Beal, Wall turned back on defense with his right arm suspended in the air as enemy fans admired the flashy play. However as the Wizards tried to produce more highlights, the Lakers worked their way back into the game.
Through the half, Washington shot 49 percent but also committed nine turnovers that led to 11 points for the Lakers. A pair of mistakes in the final 2:15, including a sloppy lob exchange between Beal and Porter, squandered possessions while the Wizards tried to recapture the lead and the Lakers went into halftime with the 58-55 advantage.
Then by the third quarter, the Lakers truly locked in by opening a 16-point lead. However the Wizards scrambled back to life the best way the team knows how: making shots. In the fourth quarter, Oubre, Jason Smith and Bojan Bogdanovic contributed to trimming the lead to four points before Wall and Beal re-entered the game. Wall’s impact was sudden — after stealing a pass from Russell, he soared in for the game-tying fast break dunk with 5:56 remaining.
With less than three minutes to play, Beal padded the lead by hitting a long jumper despite being knocked down by Julius Randle. Beal made the free throw and the Wizards pulled ahead 108-104. Although the Wizards struggled beyond the arc — 6 of 23 for the game — Oubre’s shot from the left-side wing opened a five-point lead with 1:45 remaining. Oubre led the reserves with 14 points in 25 minutes.