When the Washington Wizards started 0-5, or when they were in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, or when they lost two starters to season-ending injuries, who would have thought they'd find themselves beating the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers on national TV in late April to sweep the two-game season series?
And who would have thought the Wizards would own a two-game lead for the Eastern Conference's 10th spot and the inside track for a play-in berth with 10 games left in the regular season?
Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook certainly did not give up on the season, and their performances Wednesday night — Beal's 27 points and Westbrook's league-record 13th triple-double of the month — lifted the Wizards past the no-LeBron Lakers 116-107, handing Los Angeles its fourth loss in five games.
“We had a bad season,” said Alex Len, who had 18 points and nine rebounds as part of Washington's three-man center rotation, “but if we finish strong and make the playoffs, people are going to remember the end of the season.”
LeBron James has been sidelined for more than a month with a sprained right ankle, a 20-game absence during which the Lakers are 8-12 and have dropped to fifth in the Western Conference standings. He sat near LA’s subs, a mask covering his nose and mouth.
The good news for the visitors: Anthony Davis scored 26 — 14 in the fourth quarter — his highest output in four games back since sitting for 30 with a strained right calf. The bad news: By the time Davis got going, the deficit was too big to overcome.
“He's obviously in this phase of trying to get his legs back under him,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Trying to get his rhythm and timing.”
Washington, meanwhile, has won nine of 10 games to improve to 28-34.
That surge prompted the NBA to shift this game to ESPN, rare exposure for an oft-struggling franchise — and coach Scott Brooks loved the chance to play for a broader audience.
“We earned that with what we’ve done,” Brooks said. “We’ve got two really high high-level players, but our other guys are coming along.”
Beal entered the day leading the NBA in scoring average at 31.4 points, just ahead of Golden State's Stephen Curry, while Westbrook is tops in assists at 11 per game. They were, as usual, a big part of why Washington won, including Westbrook's 18 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists.
“He's a monster,” Lakers guard Dennis Schröder said.
There also were contributions from others such as Len — “His minutes changed the game; his minutes won the game,” Brooks said — and Rui Hachimura and Ish Smith, who each scored 12.
Each of the latter two provided a highlight-worthy dunk, too.
Hachimura's included a hand to the face of Davis, who ended up on his backside on the baseline and checking his nose for blood. Smith's brought most of the Wizards onto the court to celebrate at the ensuing timeout after giving the hosts their largest lead, 98-79, with less than 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
“That was a fun moment for our team,” Brooks said. “They love when little guards dunk, like Ish — and myself.”
NO LBJ UPDATE
Vogel declined to give an update on the status of James, skirting questions about his use when he comes back and whether that could be before the regular season ends.
The four-time NBA MVP's averages lead Los Angeles in scoring (25.4), assists (7.9) and minutes (33.9) this season.
“He’s still out indefinitely,” Vogel said. “That’s all I’ve got for you.”
Lakers: G Alex Caruso (back spasms) did not play. ... Andre Drummond had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Wizards: Westbrook's triple-double count is up to 30 for the season and 176 for his career, just five away from Oscar Robertson’s mark. ... C Robin Lopez scored eight points, returning after sitting out a game for the first time all season because of a sprained left ankle.
Lakers: Open a three-game homestand by hosting the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
Wizards: Play seven of their upcoming eight games on the road, beginning at Cleveland on Friday night.