By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and on Monday night, the Washington Wizards ran its winning streak to five games with an improbable come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Washington overcame a 17-point third-quarter deficit to notch the overtime victory. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points in the win, each playing a whopping 44 minutes. Washington’s winning streak came to an end on Tuesday night against the Clippers, but there is no shame in dropping the back-end of the NBA’s most challenging back-to-back. Despite an awful start to the season, Washington is currently a mere 2.5 games out of the East’s final playoff spot.
Noteworthy from the Lakers’ loss to the Wizards was the play of LeBron James. With Anthony Davis sidelined, James is operating as the only consistent offensive weapon for the Lakers, and it is proving to be a massive burden for the 18-year veteran. In the loss to Washington, James played 43 minutes, scored 31 but needing 29 shots to do so, had eight turnovers, and missed a free throw late in the fourth quarter that would have ended the game in regulation. It was an ugly night for James, and despite his public dismissal of the idea, a few days of rest seem to be much-needed. The Lakers will travel to face the surging Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Utah is coming off a win over the Hornets that was more noteworthy for an injury suffered by Charlotte wing Gordon Hayward. On a hard fall, Hayward seemed to have injured his hand/wrist, and there was a concern for serious injury all day Tuesday. Thankfully, Hayward appears to have avoided disaster, with Charlotte tagging him as questionable for the team’s game tonight against the Suns. While there is a strong likelihood that Hayward misses tonight’s game, the Hornets feel there is at least a small chance he’s ready for action, hinting that he’ll return to the court at some point shortly. Hayward has re-emerged as an All-Star candidate this season, kickstarting Charlotte’s surge back into the playoff picture.
Big man DeMarcus Cousins was waived by the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, clearing the veteran’s way to latch on with a championship contender soon. After struggling for a few weeks to start the season, Cousins rounded into form within Houston’s frontcourt in late January and February, and there’s every reason to think he can help a frontcourt-needy team. Though far removed from his All-Star days, Cousins remains an effective offensive player capable of anchoring a second unit or fill-in with a spot start for resting or injured centers. The Lakers, Raptors, and Warriors could all use a player with Cousins’ skillset.
Reserves for the upcoming All-Star game were announced last night, with James Harden, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, Ben Simmons, and Nikola Vucevic earning the honor in the East. There’s a prominent, deep group of snubs left off the roster, with former All-Stars Khris Middleton and Domantas Sabonis warranting consideration, as well as guys like Fred VanVleet, Tobias Harris, Jerami Grant, and Malcolm Brogdon also deserving mention. Plus, there’s a pair of Heat players (Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler) with a legitimate claim to a spot. The East may lack many elite teams, but there is a wealth of star-level talent in the conference.
Out West, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, and Rudy Gobert make up the reserves. With Davis injured, a replacement will be named, with either Devin Booker or Mike Conley likely to claim his spot if it is based on merit, though Brandon Ingram could take Davis’s place if a frontcourt option is preferred. Young guard De’Aaron Fox is another notable omission, but given the superstar talent in the West backcourt, it is near impossible to find a spot for Fox on this year’s roster.