They’re not all 100 percent, but this is as close as the Los Angeles Lakers are going to get to being as such during a critical stretch run. With 13 games left in the regular season and every game a virtual must-win, the Lakers will play with Bryant, Gasol, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Steve Blake in the lineup at the same time for just the third time this season.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni spoke briefly about how exciting it is to have a full complement of players after the Lakers’ practice on Thursday.
“We gotta keep progressing, gotta keep getting better and better and better. We’ve got a month to get better in the meantime winning games. It’s tough but we put ourselves in this position,” he told Sports Out West on Thursday. “Practice was good. Intensity was great. Ball movement was great. Guys were excited to have everybody back”
Gasol and Bryant’s returns aside, the Lakers would be unwise to look past a young Washington Wizards team that has proven to be more than capable of beating good teams. The last thing Los Angeles can afford at this juncture is a major setback a loss to a team like that at home would provide, as their lead over the Utah Jazz is only a game and a half.
Washington comes in to Los Angeles having won 13-of-21, including wins against the Clippers, Knicks, Nuggets and Nets. Defense is something the Lakers will need to focus on Friday night in order to win. The speedy John Wall creates problems for a Lakers team that has struggled containing guards all season long.
Steve Nash talked about the Wizards’ recent success.
“They’re a young athletic energetic team. John Wall is great, they have big guys who can score,” he said Thursday. “They have some shooters too. They’re young but they’re capable. They’ve beaten some good teams this year.”
Matchup concerns aside, Howard is happy about what the return of Pau means for the team defensively.
“I mean it’s another big. When he was out our front line was real small,” Howard said after practice. “With him being out there now we have an opportunity to do a better job of playing inside out. He’s a great passer from the post. He’s a 7-footer. He blocks shots. It’s good for me. It’s tough for a guy like Antawn (Jamison) cause they’re used to being on the perimeter. It’s a chance for us to go back and play those guys back on the perimeter.”
Defense isn’t the worry when both Howard and Gasol are in the game, it’s how the two 7 -footers play together. Floor spacing will be harder to come by, so it will be interesting to see what D’Antoni does with the Spaniard in his first game back.
With the majority of the team close to full health, the Lakers will look to secure the final playoff spot int he Western Conference. That journey begins with the Wizards at Staples Center on Friday.
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