The Lakers got a much needed win on Saturday, fighting back to steal a victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. Tonight, they head to Atlanta for the third stop on their four-game road trip to face an underrated Hawks team. Back in November the Lakers defeated the Hawks 105-103 as they jumped out to a huge lead early, then allowed the Hawks to come all the way back before holding on late.
Xavier Henry and Pau Gasol led the way at Staples Center in November and the Lakers did a good job of holding Paul Millsap and Al Horford in check. The Hawks are coming into this game following a 111-106 loss in New York on Saturday and are looking to climb back over .500.
The Hawks have one of the best big man duos in the game in Paul Millsap and Al Horford. They are both excellent scorers and extremely active on the glass. Horford especially is dangerous and he has shown the ability to dominate a game on numerous occasions this season.
Where the Lakers have the advantage against these bigs is length. Both Millsap and Horford are undersized for their positions and Millsap especially struggles when he has to elevate over long, outstretched arms. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill must use their length to their advantage and keep those two off the offensive glass. Having Jordan Hill in the starting lineup makes it less likely that Millsap or Horford will be getting cheap, easy points on offensive rebounds.
At the small forward position, Wesley Johnson has really shined recently. His athleticism and speed have made him the Lakers best defender. In DeMarre Carroll he is faced with an athletic, slashing wing, but one who is not a shot creator. However, he is likely to spend a lot of time on sharpshooter Kyle Korver and the Hawks tend to move Korver up when they bring in super-sub Louis Williams off the bench. When that happens, Johnson must not help off of Korver, one of the best shooters in the NBA.
Though the Lakers are close to getting one of their point guards back, they still are without a true point for this game leaving Kobe Bryant to start at the point guard position for the third straight game. He has an extremely difficult matchup against one of the best young point guards in the NBA, Jeff Teague.
Teague has blossomed this season, averaging just under 16 points and eight assists per game. He is one of the fastest guards in the league and it is essential that the Lakers keep him out of the paint as much as possible as that will lead to open threes for the likes of Korver and Williams, and easy layups for Horford and Millsap.
Korver starts at the two guard spot opposite Jodie Meeks, but it is Williams who will spend the most time at the spot. Williams returned from a knee injury and gives the Hawks a huge boost that they didn’t have in the first meeting. He is an excellent shooter and can create his own shot against anyone in the league.
Meeks has been arguably the Lakers most consistent player this season and he must continue his high level of play while Bryant continues to find his footing. Bryant is beginning to show flashes of his old self, but turnovers have been his biggest problem as he is averaging more than six per game so far. Against an active hand like Teague, that will have to go down.
Keys To Lakers’ Victory
Turnovers: The Lakers have been killed by turnovers in the last week and they must take better care of the ball moving forward. Kobe Bryant has been reluctant to shoot the ball and is trying to squeeze passes in tight spaces, but teams are playing the passing lanes against Kobe and are coming up with those steals. The Hawks have two guards who can get the ball up the court in the blink of an eye so taking care of the ball has to be a top priority for the Lakers.
The Hawks are a league average team when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball themselves. The Lakers have to be smart about their passes and keep the right spacing. On the other side they have to figure out a way to stay at home on shooters so that when Teague attacks they can swipe those kick out passes he likes to throw and get some easy baskets for themselves.
Controlling The Paint: Horford and Millsap love to operate in the paint and it will be on Gasol and Hill to make life as difficult as possible for them down there. Gasol has looked a little better in recent games but is still far from the dominant player we have seen from him in the past. Hill, meanwhile, has to match Millsap’s energy on both ends.
But the paint isn’t just occupied, by those two, it is about keeping Teague and Williams out of there as well. The Hawks are second in the league in assists. A lot of that comes from penetration, kick outs, and ball movement. Meeks, Bryant, Johnson, Henry, and Young have to find a way to contain these guards and not allow them to roam the paint at will. The Hawks offense is predicated on this, and holding that in check will be crucial if the Lakers expect to leave Atlanta with a win.
Three-Point Shooting: Both of these teams are in the top 10 in three point shooting. In the first meeting, they each hit nine three-pointers, but both of these teams have made major additions in the time since that first meeting. Korver, Williams, Carroll, and Cartier Martin are all capable of getting hot and the Lakers have to know where the Hawks’ shooters are at all times.
The Lakers, of course have their own array of shooters led by Meeks, Johnson, Henry and Nick Young. In a tough road environment, the Lakers have to make their shots to stay in the game. They are missing a couple of their best shooters, but there can be no excuses if they plan on getting a victory. The Lakers have to knock down threes to stay in this game.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-12) vs. Atlanta Hawks (12-12)
4:30 PM PST, December 16, 2013
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Hawks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Kyle Korver
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Horford
Key Reserves: SG Louis Williams, PF Mike Scott, PG Shelvin Mack
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kobe Bryant
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol
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