Preview: Lakers (11-12) @ Hawks (12-12)

Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images.

December 16, 2013 — 4:30 PM (PST)
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

An ugly win? Yes. Does it matter how we win? Not at this moment. After a tumultuous week, which included a 3 game losing streak and a conflict between the head coach and the Lakers main post player, the Los Angeles Lakers (11-12) beat the Charlotte Bobcats to get a win they needed in the most desperate fashion.

In Saturday’s game, G Kobe Bryant resembled the Kobe Bryant prior to his injury. Bryant led the team for their Saturday win, scoring 21 points, having 7 rebounds, and 8 assists as the point guard. However, his true-telling sign that he’s back did not come from that. Bryant got C Pau Gasol’s attention by yelling at him for not handling the ball during the Lakers’ timeout in the 3rd quarter, causing at least half of Bryant’s turnovers. It showed everyone that Kobe’s on-court edge has returned. Although Gasol seems to tune out Head Coach Mike D’Antoni whenever he criticizes Gasol, Bryant knows the right buttons to press to get Gasol’s attention.

That being said, the Lakers face another tough road battle versus the Atlanta Hawks (12-12) tonight. The Hawks are led by the 2 big men C/PF Al Horford and former Utah Jazz F Paul Millsap. Horford has had a great season so far, averaging a career high in scoring at 17.7 PPG while averaging 8.3 RPG, while Millsap has performed well replacing now Pistons F Josh Smith, averaging 16.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG. Outside of Horford and Millsap, the Hawks are a well-balanced team, with each player having a solid role in their team.

Projected Starters

PG - Jeff Teague Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SG - Kyle Korver / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SF - DeMarre Carroll Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Hawks]

PF - Paul Millsap / Jordan Hill [Advantage: Hawks]

C - Al Horford / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Lou Williams, F Cartier MartinG Shelvin Mack

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. Keep Guards Away From Paint: The Lakers have major problems keeping guards away from the paint, letting them get high percentage shots for themselves or an open teammate. Tonight’s matchup will not me easier, as they try to keep PG Jeff Teague, who averages 15.9 PPG and 7.9 APG, outside of the paint. Without a rim protector and a slow Pau Gasol as our center, the guards have to make the offensive players feel more uncomfortable while dribbling the ball and cause turnovers. Despite not having a point guard, guards like Meeks, Johnson, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry are all interchangeable skill-wise, so an excuse to play intense defense and show great communications cannot be plausible for this group.
  2. Continue to Feed Gasol: Despite a poor offensive performance by Gasol on saturday, the Lakers have to continue to feed him the ball. Kobe Bryant knows, D’Antoni knows, the rest of the Lakers know, and the Laker Nation knows that for the Lakers to have any chance at success moving forward, Gasol needs to play close to an all-star level again. Hopefully with Kobe Bryant on the floor at all times with Gasol lately, we will not have to worry about Gasol complaining about not receiving any touches in his sweet spot since Kobe has audibled out of the regular offensive system to force feed Gasol the ball inside.
  3. Stop Kyle Korver: Hawks SG Kyle Korver has always caused the Lakers defense problems, swishing three-pointers at the most inopportune time, including scoring 22 points in the Lakers last meeting vs. Hawks. Korver now owns the NBA’s all time record for the most consecutive games with a 3-point make, which now stands at 92 games. The Lakers have to go above both on-ball and off-ball screens whenever they guard Korver. Furthermore, whoever guards Korver should not worry about helping off of Korver since everyone on the Hawks know to rely on him whenever he has an open 3-pointer. Watch for Korver to make the Lakers pay again if their attention slips again at paying attention to Korver at all times.

Bottom Line

With Bryant getting his mojo back and with positive momentum carrying the Lakers, they have a good shot at beating the Hawks tonight. However, the Lakers have to play with a lot of effort tonight on the defensive end to prevent any easy buckets or a wide open three-point shot from Kyle Korver. While this game will be another low-scoring outing by both teams, the Lakers now have the cleaner in Kobe Bryant, which should propel the Lakers to another nail-biting victory.

Prediction

Lakers: 88-87

Kanta Ito currently attends UC Santa Cruz as a 4th year undergraduate Business Management Economics major. Kanta also contributes to Warriors World and seeks to attend Graduate School to study Sports Management.