WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards got close enough to the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday to actually feel as though they could pull off the biggest upset of the season, trailing by one point deep into the fourth quarter.
At that point, the Lakers found that extra gear they possess and coasted to a 122-110 win over the Wizards before a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.
The Lakers, behind a triple double from Kobe Bryant, blitzed the Wizards 28-17 over the final eight minutes, dashing perhaps the best overall effort Washington has exhibited this season.
"We feel good about what happened," said Washington coach Eddie Jordan. "We played physical basketball. We took the hits. We kept our composure. Again, it's the message that we've been saying since October. You see what happens when you stay organized, you keep your composure, you compete at the highest level, and we have to keep doing that."
On a day when the Wizards (18-39) needed to be perfect, they weren't. And the Lakers (37-20), led by Bryant, took advantage.
But what the Wizards lacked in execution, they made up for in effort and heart. Gilbert Arenas, who had a triple double Thursday night, tied a franchise record with eight three-pointers as a part of a brilliant, 35-point, nine assist night.
"That's what we get paid for, everybody, to come and play hard and especially in the spotlight, when the Lakers come in," said Arenas. "They only come in once a year, so everybody has to be up for the game."
The Wizards, who had fallen behind by as many as 15 in the third quarter, cut the deficit to 94-93 with 7:29 left when Jared Jeffries converted two free throws. But the Lakers responded, getting a reverse layup from Gary Payton and a dunk from Shaquille O'Neal (29 points) off an alley-oop pass from Bryant for a five-point cushion.
Two possessions later, Bryant fired across the Washington defense, finding rookie Luke Walton in the left corner for a three-pointer, giving Bryant his 10th assist of the game to clinch his first triple double since January 10, 2003, and the ninth of his career.
"When they told me [about the triple double] after the game, I was pretty surprised," said Bryant, who had 25 points, 10 assists and a season-high 11 rebounds. "I felt like I was playing a pretty good all-around game. I didn't know I had a triple double."
Los Angeles sealed the game on its next possession, getting a three-pointer from Kareem Rush for a 105-95 lead.
"We just have to take the loss," said Jerry Stackhouse, who had 20 points. "We had a lot to come out of this game. I thought guys competed and there was a lot of energy in the building. Hopefully, we'll get that and continue to feed off that."
Next for Wizards
Opponent: New Orleans Hornets
Site: MCI Center, Washington
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)