With the Lakers fresh off their big victory in Orlando on Tuesday night, they were back in action Wednesday as they looked for their fifth consecutive victory. The team got some good news before the game as it was announced that Jeff Teague, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia would all be out of action on Wednesday. Still, with the Lakers on the second game of a back-to-back, they weren’t about to take anything for granted.
Los Angeles played the Hawks back on March 3rd, defeating Atlanta at the Staples Center. Now they would have to complete the task at Phillips Arena in front of a hostile crowd. After Dwight Howard’s remarkable performance in Orlando (39 points, 16 rebounds), the team was hoping for another impressive performance from their center.
After such a strong performance on Tuesday things didn’t get off to an ideal start for the Lakers on Wednesday. Both teams struggled in the first period, and it was an ugly game on both ends of the floor. The teams started ice cold from the field, including Kobe Bryant, who has struggled with his shot in the last three games. Bryant started Wednesday’s game with an ice cold 0-6 from the field. The Lakers did have a strong first few minutes from Howard, but he was forced to the bench after just three minutes due to foul trouble.
Still, even though the Hawks were missing Smith, Teague and Pachulia, they gave the Lakers a very tough time in the first quarter. Bryant ended the period scoreless, and a Metta World Peace three-point barrage was one of the few things keeping Los Angeles in the game.
Due to the ugly start and Howard’s foul trouble the Lakers were trailing Atlanta 26-19 after the first 12 minutes.
Things got uglier for the Lakers to start the second as Atlanta pushed the lead to double digits. With Howard back in the Lakers were hoping to crawl a little closer, but a lack of offensive cohesion coupled with a less-than-aggressive Howard (due to the fouls) cost the Lakers in the first half of the period. To make matters worse, Jodie Meeks picked up his third personal foul with nine minutes left in the period., sending him to the bench for the remainder of the half.
Kobe finally got on the board midway through the period with a nice, aggressive move to attack the basket and get to the rim. But that was marred by seven missed shots and three turnovers.
Atlanta pushed their lead even further as the quarter progressed, and the Lakers seemed to be reeling. The Hawks were getting a lot of open looks from good ball movement, and plenty of mid-range jumpers. Devin Harris, Al Horford and Johan Petro all scored eight points apiece in the first half, helping the Hawks build a 55-43 lead at the break.
To begin the third the Lakers were looking to do several things – improve their own shooting percentage while trying to improve defensive rotations to make things a little more difficult for the Hawks. With Los Angeles unable to match Atlanta’s intensity in the first half, the Hawks were able to build a double-digit lead without three of their top scorers. The start of the second half was similar to the start of the first in the sense that it showcased a lot of ugly basketball.
Still, Los Angeles had trouble getting back into the game. Consecutive dunks from Howard gave L.A. a little hope, but things got trickier when Howard picked up his fourth foul midway through the quarter. On the very next play things got worse as Kobe thought he was fouled on a play, staying back to argue with officials and allowing Kyle Korver to hit a wide open three-pointer and push Atlanta’s lead back to 12.
Luckily for the Lakers, they have Kobe Bryant. After struggling immensely in the first half, Bryant turned things on in the third. Like we’ve seen so many times before, Bryant put the entire team on his back and carried them back into the game. Kobe scored 20 points in the third on 9-14 shooting, turning a double-digit deficit into a brief Laker lead. He began to force things a bit too much towards the end of the third, but still had put the Lakers back in a position to win, trailing 76-74 at the end of the third.
Los Angeles started the fourth by tying the game at 76 before a Steve Blake triple gave the Lakers their biggest lead of the night. A non-call on the other end of the floor ignited Atlanta coach Larry Drew, who picked up a technical foul, allowing the Lakers to pull in front by a little more. Still the under-manned Hawks wouldn’t go away. They crawled back into the game and re-took the lead, picking up Dwight Howard’s fifth foul in the process. As a result, Mike D’Antoni checked Kobe back into the game, hoping he could will the Lakers to yet another victory.
With Howard out of the lineup yet again, the Lakers’ interior defense crumbled. Atlanta got to the rim at will, and pulled back ahead 88-83, forcing a Mike D’Antoni timeout. As has been the case so many times before, without Howard (and Gasol injured) the team just can’t protect the rim. It was evident again on Wednesday, as Atlanta forced the issue inside.
Still, with time running out in the game, the Lakers were in a position to get a tough win on the second night of a back to back. Bryant was forcing the issue a bit too much at times, resulting in some bad shots and turnovers.
The Lakers had plenty of chances in the last few minutes, trailing by just three for nearly two minutes of game time. Atlanta couldn’t put together enough plays to put the Lakers away, but L.A. just couldn’t find a way to get over the top and get the lead. Bryant forced too many bad shots, resulting in opportunities for the Hawks on the other end. Kobe tried to do it again for the Lakers, hitting a long triple with less than 20 seconds remaining.
The Lakers made it close, but it got tricky at the end. Bryant missed a shot that would have tied the game and landed awkwardly, remaining on the court holding his knee. He eventually got up and walked it off, but appeared to be okay. Still, the loss to the Hawks stung the Lakers, as Atlanta won the game 96-92.