Wes Unseld Jr. said before the Wizards’ game against the Lakers that coaching against LeBron James is “a nightmare.”
However, it wasn’t James who was a nightmare for Washington on Sunday night. That was his fellow superstar Anthony Davis, who dominated Unseld’s team all night long to lead Los Angeles to a 130-119 win over the host Wizards.
Davis, in the midst of arguably the best season of his superb career, scored a season-high 55 points on 22-of-30 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds to extend his double-double streak to 10. By the end of the game, the Lakers contingent at Capital One Arena was chanting “M-V-P” for Davis.
The 6-foot-10 big man established his presence in the paint early and often. He tallied nine points and six rebounds just nine minutes into the contest; at halftime, he had 24 points and nine boards.
The poor performance defensively in the paint continued a concerning trend for the Wizards, who struggled in that area last season and have been plagued by it the last handful of contests.
“I’m hoping it’s just a bump in the road,” Unseld said before the game. “It’s a mindset. You look back at those four or five games, and it’s not coming from just one area. It’s coming from a lot of places. It does add up.”
The double-digit loss was the third-straight defeat for the Wizards, who entered Sunday in 10th place (the final playoff spot) in the Eastern Conference.
A major factor in the lopsided loss was that Washington was without superstar Bradley Beal for the majority of the game. The 29-year-old guard exited after just four minutes and didn’t return due to right hamstring tightness.
Los Angeles (10-12) started the night hot to take an early 10-4 lead. Washington (11-13) quickly responded with an 11-0 run, but James popped the Wizards’ balloon with three straight buckets — a layup, a fadeaway jumper and a dunk — to spark a 16-2 run for the Lakers. The Wizards trailed for the remainder of the contest.
The Lakers went into halftime up 68-50, and they came out in the second half firing on all cylinders to take a 27-point lead. Davis kept the Lakers rolling with a backboard-rattling dunk, a deep 3-pointer and an and-one layup to cap the third quarter.
With the Wizards making a comeback attempt late in the fourth, James (29 points) sealed the victory with two of his classic breakaway dunks.
Kristaps Porzingis (27 points), Kyle Kuzma (26), Daniel Gafford (17) and Corey Kispert (16) led the Wizards in the loss.
The matchup featured multiple players going up against their former clubs — most notably Russell Westbrook and Kuzma.
Westbrook, who played one season in the District before being traded to Los Angeles in exchange for Kuzma and a few other players, is now unceremoniously coming off the bench for the Lakers after struggling mightily last season. But the 34-year-old former MVP has been playing better in recent weeks as he’s adjusted to his new role. Westbrook scored just six points Sunday, but he racked up 15 assists and seven rebounds.
“I got to give Russell a lot of credit. He’s embraced the role off the bench, and he’s really flourished,” Unseld said. “I’m sure that’s not where he wants to be, but he’s bought into it and I think it’s impacted how they play.”
Kuzma, meanwhile, caught fire in the fourth quarter in the Wizards’ unsuccessful comeback attempt. He scored 17 in the fourth and ended the game with 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Kuzma entered Sunday averaging a career-high 20.3 points per game, and Unseld said the 27-year-old forward has come a long way since his early days in Los Angeles.
“Seeing where he was while coaching in the West,” Unseld said, “then having him come here and coaching him and developing a relationship with him, he’s a different, more complete player than I thought.”
The Wizards are back in action Wednesday at Chicago.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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