Wizards' Wall stops Lakers as Bryant, Gasol return

Jon Gold, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant looking lithe and springy, Pau Gasol back after a long absence and a 16-point, first-quarter lead?
Everything was looking great for the Los Angeles Lakers early Friday night. Then they hit a Wall. And John Wall hit back, and back, and back.
The Wizards young star guard continued his torrid streak, leading Washington from 18 down and clinching the game with four free throws in the final four seconds in a 103-100 win at Staples Center.
Wall, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, scored 24 points, had a career-high 16 assists and added six rebounds and three steals in the comeback victory.
Most importantly for Washington coach Randy Wittman, though, Wall dictated the pace of the game and stayed calm despite the deficit.
"He's just controlling the tempo," Wittman said. "He's getting the ball up the floor, getting the ball inside quickly before defense can get set. He's attacking gaps. He's playing with high confidence. He's playing a high level -- I don't know if there's anybody playing at a higher level than John."
With their roster at full strength for the first time in more than a month as Bryant returned from a sprained ankle and Gasol came back from a foot injury, the Lakers jumped to a 35-19 first-quarter lead while holding Washington to 30 percent shooting. Los Angeles maintained a double-digit advantage nine minutes into the third quarter, before Washington quickly chipped away at the lead.
"They got themselves into a good rhythm and executed," Gasol said. "We stopped moving the ball offensively, and it was just one thing after another."
The Wizards trimmed the Los Angeles lead to two points by the end of the third and seized control midway through the fourth quarter. The Lakers kept pace for much of the back-and-forth fourth, but Metta World Peace committed a costly offensive foul with 34 seconds left after Washington's Nene put the Wizards up 99-97 with 43 seconds remaining.
The Lakers had one more chance to tie or win it after Dwight Howard grabbed a defensive rebound with 16 seconds left, but Kobe Bryant missed a fadeaway shot and Los Angeles was dealt its second straight loss.
"I was not too displeased at halftime, to be honest with you," Wittman said. "They came out of the box hot. You could tell they had two or three days off and were getting everybody back. And they made shots and we missed a lot of wide-open shots. I thought that was really it. We saw in the second quarter, when we got stops, we could run."
Added Bryant: "I think it was their penetration. Our defensive intensity slipped a great deal in the second half."
Former Laker Trevor Ariza scored 25 points off the bench and Nene added 15 points for the Wizards.
Bryant had 21 points and 11 assists to lead Los Angeles, which shot just 65 percent from the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers, including six by Bryant. Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers and Jodie Meeks added 16 points off the bench.
"I don't think we were detail-oriented enough in the second half," said Lakers guard Steve Nash, who had nine points and six assists. "Our shots didn't go, we lost our rhythm, got a little stagnant, and they all of a sudden got hot."
NOTES: Gasol (plantar fascia) last played on Feb. 5 in a 92-83 Lakers win at Brooklyn. Los Angeles went 13-7 in his absence with Earl Clark taking a larger role. ... Emeka Okafor (flu), A.J. Price (groin) and Leandro Barbosa (knee) all missed the game for Washington. ... Kobe Bryant missed the Lakers' 113-102 win over Sacramento on March 17 and 23-point loss on March 18. ... The Lakers win over Sacramento marked the first game since Gasol joined the team that both Bryant and Gasol missed the same game. ... Los Angeles won the teams' first matchup, 102-96, on Dec. 14. The Wizards won the lone matchup between the teams last season after losing nine straight. ... Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was a 1976 first-round draft pick of the Wizards and a member of the 1977-78 NBA championship squad. ... John Wall has upped his shooting in recent weeks, hitting 57 percent from the field, 83 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line over his last six games entering Friday.

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