Kobe Bryant was the intended target when Los Angeles Lakers reserve Jodie Meeks threw an alley-oop lob in the third quarter of a game that was going to possibly provide an opportunity for one team to get on the right track.
As Bryant tapped the ball toward the hoop, Washington Wizards forward Martell Webster soared in to contest the shot. Instead, Webster knocked Bryant to the ground and dunked in his team’s own basket.
“As he hit me, the ball went in and I was like, ‘Why not?’ ” Webster said, explaining why he hung on the rim. “I didn’t want to step on anybody. I was actually going up to block the shot. He put it in before I could get to it.”
Two struggling teams shared the floor in front of a sellout crowd on Friday at Verizon Center and one had to come away with a victory. Ultimately, the Wizards were gracious hosts, offering a helping hand in a 102-96 loss. The final kind gesture came with 1 minute 21 seconds remaining, when Lakers center Dwight Howard missed the second of two free throws and Bryant swooped in uncontested for a tip-in that put the Lakers ahead by nine points.
Bryant missed 20 of his 29 field goal attempts, but he finished with a game-high 30 points and added seven assists and seven rebounds as the Lakers snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged a lost on this same court last March.
“Kobe, he’s going to shoot the ball until his arm falls off. He’s an aggressor,” rookie Bradley Beal said after going up against the five-time NBA champion for the first time. “I think we got the best of him a little bit, but he still scored 30 points, so it wasn’t good on our part.”
Cartier Martin came off the bench to score a season-high 21 points as the Wizards (3-17) lost their second in a row. They will travel to Miami on Saturday to face the defending champion Heat, which is probably anxious for a rematch after the Wizards upset them at Verizon Center less than two weeks ago.
“Our hands are going to be full without us beating them,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
On Friday against the Lakers, the storied franchise that entered Friday’s game with a 9-14 record and had two of its perennial all-stars watching from the bench with injuries, the Wizards played a good role in beating themselves.
Reserve big man Kevin Seraphin made a jump hook to bring the Wizards within 68-64 with 5:54 left in the third quarter, but the Lakers responded with an 8-0 run, capped by the Webster-assisted lob to Bryant. Shaun Livingston finally ended a nearly 4½-minute field goal drought when he caught a pass from Nene and dunked to bring the Wizards within 78-69.
Meeks (24 points) then countered with a personal 10-3 run that pushed the lead to 88-72 early in the fourth quarter. But as they have been prone to do all season, the Wizards quickly climbed back into the game. They staged a 20-4 run, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk by Webster, who proved that he could throw down lobs from both teams.
Nene (17 points) made two free throws to bring the Wizards within 92-89 with 5:31 remaining in the game, but after fighting back and forth for most of the game, the Wizards folded. Howard made a jump hook, then Webster was called for fouling Bryant as he shot a three-pointer. Bryant made all three free throws, finished the game 11 of 13 from the line and heard chants of “MVP” on nearly every attempt.
“Controversial call, with the three-point shot that he got. I don’t agree with it,” Webster said.
Seraphin then was fouled while making a dunk to bring the Wizards within 99-93. He missed the free throw, but Jordan Crawford grabbed the rebound. Rookie Bradley Beal got the ball in the corner, but was called for traveling on a pump-fake to end any chance of a dramatic finish.
“I was open, I was in the air and all of a sudden, somebody else was already in the air. I was like, ‘I’m not going to get this off,’ ” said Beal, whose string of six consecutive games scoring in double figures came to an end as he was held to just four points and spend most of the night in foul trouble. “I didn’t do good. My defense was all right, but my offense wasn’t where it should be.”
Webster had 17 points and Crawford added 11 as the Wizards only had two starters reach double figures. The bench provided 58 points, with Seraphin contributing 16.
The Lakers have often found a welcoming crowd whenever they arrive in Washington, and most of the arena was filled with fans in purple and gold. The support would appear to be somewhat unwarranted this season, with the Lakers underachieving, on their third head coach of the season in Mike D’Antoni, and Howard and Bryant unable to mesh as quickly as expected.
The absence of two-time most valuable player Steve Nash and Pau Gasol hasn’t helped much, but at least they found a team willing to help them break out of their slump, for at least one night, in the Wizards. They got some encouraging news about John Wall, who has been cleared to ramp up his activity after visiting orthopedic specialist David Altchek in New York. But they continue to lose with him dressed in a suit, and not a uniform.