Have you heard the one about the basketball team that's supposed to be better than everybody else, but squanders big leads late and struggles to leave with a victory? If you've followed the Lakers at all this season, well then, of course you have.
The Lakers followed an all-too-familiar script during this evening's squeaker of a win in Washington. They got out to an early double digit lead, before giving some of it back and leading by just five at the half. Then they put on their typical third quarter run, and stretched the lead to 15 after three, before letting the bench come in to handle the mop-up duties. But just like in Indiana -- and in a few other games this season as well -- the starters had to come back late in the fourth, and by then, it was almost too late.
L.A. led by a score of 99-80 with under eight minutes to play in the game. A combination of bad shots and worse defense allowed the Wizards to go on a very quick 10-0 run to cut the lead to nine with under six minutes left. At that point, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol checked in to make sure the Lakers would close this one out, but their presence did little to accomplish that goal, and the Wizards were able to get much closer before the final buzzer.
Washington was able to cut the lead all the way down to one, thanks to the Lakers refusing to run any semblance of an offense in the last five minutes of the game. Every possession featured Kobe with the ball, sometimes dribbling the shot clock down 35 feet from the basket, before forcing up a bad shot that was well-defended. The players on the weak side of the floor all stood motionless, as Kobe either waited for a screen from Pau Gasol or passed to him, while everyone else stood around and watched the play unfold. For fans used to watching a smooth and efficient Lakers team move without the ball and pass it around until they get a good look, this was beyond frustrating to watch.
The game ended with the Wizards down by two with the ball, and Caron Butler pump-faking on Trevor Ariza behind the three-point line before launching a shot that just happened to not go in. But it could have, and that would have meant another fourth quarter blown lead to a sub-.500 team on this trip.
The Wizards were 3-13 coming in to this game; there's no way in the world they should have been able to erase an 18-point fourth quarter lead against a Lakers team that has aspirations of getting back to the Finals. But they did, and they did a lot of it against L.A.'s starting unit. The Lakers may be bored with games like these, knowing they can usually flip the switch when necessary and come away with a win. Honestly though, the way their offense looked in the fourth quarter, it's possible that they could end up losing more of these types of games than they will end up winning.