Wesley Johnson’s lob secures Lakers’ 107-106 win over Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. — As they frantically aligned to defend the inbounds pass, the Portland Trail Blazers loudly called out to defend a potential lob pass.

But it didn’t matter. Not when the Lakers have worked on the play countless times in practice. Not when Wesley Johnson boasts superior speed and athleticism over the bruising LaMarcus Aldridge. Not when Lakers newcomer Kent Bazemore has the confidence to do everything a mere week since donning the purple and gold.

And in a season that’s become forever doomed with injuries and a talent depleted roster, the Lakers still provided something remarkable. Bazemore threw an inbounds pass to Johnson, who immediately sprinted toward the basket and laid the ball in to secure a 107-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Monday at Moda Center.

Best highlight of Johnson’s four-year career?

“It’s definitely one of them,” Johnson said. “It’s nice that we put out the win after we were fighting the whole game.”
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Wesley Johnson jumps over Aaron Brooks for nifty layup in Lakers’ loss to Rockets

The Lakers’ season has become so bad that any trace of good news only comes in snippets.

Such as this play in the Lakers’ 113-99 loss Wednesday to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Well before it was obvious the Lakers had no answer for James Harden or that the Hack-a-Dwight strategy wouldn’t work, Lakers forward Wesley Johnson somehow leaped over Houston guard Aaron Brooks for a nifty layup.

“He was just in the way,” Johnson said about the play. “After that, I just jumped … “Everyone was like, ‘Did you jump over him?’ I didn’t know. I was like, ‘No, I just jumped.”

Johnson was also uncertain on whether he could dunk either, which would’ve made the play even more spectacular.

“When I jumped, I didn’t think I would get up there and be able to,” Johnson said. “When I jumped, I got close and realized I could dunk it. But I just laid it in.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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NBA2K14 simulation predicts Lakers will miss playoffs

An NBA2K14 simulation has the Lakers missing the NBA playoffs. Photo Credit: NBA2K

An NBA2K14 simulation has the Lakers missing the NBA playoffs. Photo Credit: NBA2K

Anxiousness awaits for the Lakers’ training camp, and for what?

Very few tab them as NBA championship favorites. Uncertainty lingers on how Kobe Bryant will look after he heals his left Achilles tendon. Skepticism persists over whether Mike D’Antoni can lead these Lakers through troubled times.

That’s perhaps why NBA2K14, a video game that prides itself on comprehensive player analysis and credible game simulations, tabs the Lakers this season failing to reach the playoffs and finishing with a 35-47 record. Granted, NBA2K13 rated last year’s Lakers as the NBA championship favorites, and we all know how that turned out. The NBA2K franchise also may do its own simulations before the Oct. 1 release. I received an advance copy and performed my own simulation.

But there’s plenty of reasons to feel skeptical about the Lakers. Dwight Howard bolted for the Houston Rockets. The Lakers lost their best defensive player in Metta World Peace for the sake of saving luxury taxes through the amnesty provision. The Lakers’ offseason additions in Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar bring some added speed and additional scoring. But on paper, it appears the Lakers don’t have enough defensively.

“This team just doesn’t have enough athleticism and speed to contend for a title,” said Clark Kellog, who offers analysis with Steve Kerr while Kevin Harlan serves as the play-by-play announcer for the NBA2K14 game.
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James Worthy mixed on Dwight Howard, Lakers landing big free agent

Rarely have the Lakers ever suggested to wait until next year. After all, the franchise has collected 16 NBA championships, and usually expects to win another one both to surpass the Boston Celtic’s 17 and because the Lakers are used to hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy. But the Lakers have plenty of uncertainty this offseason. Kobe Bryant has continuously rehabbed on his left Achilles tendon, while Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are recovering from their respective hamstring and knee injuries. Dwight Howard left for Houston on his own, while Metta World Peace went to New York so the Lakers could save money. Skepticism remains on whether a full training camp and a crop of younger players more suited for his system will be enough in coach Mike D’Antoni leading the Lakers toward success.

So with few hardly predicting they will win the 2013 NBA championship, the Lakers are looking toward the 2014 offseason when they have a high amount of cap flexibility. Steve Nash and Robert Sacre remain the lone two players with guaranteed contracts after next season for a combined $10.5 million, giving the Lakers next July plenty of money to pursue high-level players that could become free agents, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph, Chris Bosh, Rudy Gay and Luol Deng.

James Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers during the Showtime Era and is an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, shared mixed feelings on whether the Lakers can attract another top-level free agent.

“I personally think L.A. is a desirable place to play,” Worthy said in an interview with this newspaper. “But I don’t know what the rest of the league and other players are thinking. Dwight Howard just came here for one year and then left for Houston, Texas.”

Howard could’ve signed with the Lakers for a five-year deal worth $118 million, as opposed to the four-year deal worth $87.6 million he will earn with the Houston Rockets. What did Worthy make of Howard’s departure?

“Dwight is a little bit too aloof for me to be that dominant player,” Worthy said. “I don’t think he can be a LeBron James, a Kobe Bryant or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or a Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s a good player and a very effective defensive player. But I just don’t think he was ready to handle the pressure.”

Read more in part two of my interview with Worthy, who talks on a wide-range of topics, including Howard, the Lakers’ 2014 offseason and expectations for Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
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Lakers depth chart breakdown: Wesley Johnson

Below is the eighth in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season. This post focuses on Lakers backup shooting guard/small forward Wesley Johnson.

1. Will Wesley Johnson overcome his reputation as a draft bust? It’s a telltale sign that Johnson signed with the Lakers at the veteran’s minimum a mere three years after being selected for the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. But that’s what happens after Johnson had three uneventful seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, averaging 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. Johnson chalked up those struggles during his introductory press conference as a Laker to a combination of learning the growing pains of the NBA and not playing in the right system. ‘

Johnson won’t have such excuses anymore. Mike D’Antoni’s system seems tailor made for Johnson’s athleticism and mobility. He has veteran-laden talent around him in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to help along the way. The Lakers have specifics needs that Johnson could fulfill, ranging from outside shooting and defending. Accounts suggest he has a very pleasant personality and a great work ethic so it’s possible Johnson will experience success. But he has to prove it first, something he has failed to do in his first three NBA seasons.

2. Johnson must show more assertiveness than in past seasons. He managed to win Big East Player of the Year honors and average 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his junior season at Syracuse after spending two uneventful years at Iowa State. Johnson did so because he mixed the right blend of teamwork and clutch shooting. But in the NBA, Johnson has appeared way too tentative for his own good. As a result, Johnson has lacked the necessary aggressiveness both to create his own shot, drive to the basket and establish authority on his respective team.

Plenty of young players encounter this challenge, but Johnson can’t afford to lack aggressiveness with the Lakers. Though the Lakers lost plenty of talent in Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, they boast plenty of players that will command a strong offensive role, including Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Johnson also will be sharing time at small forward with Nick Young, who has rarely seen a shot he doesn’t like. Because of the team’s offensive versatility, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni will likely mix and match combinations. Should Johnson’s aggressiveness wane, it’s likely he’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
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