Lakers vs. Hawks Game Preview: Lakers Look To End Two Game Skid

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles LakersAfter an emotional opening night victory over the crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers have come back down to earth after back-to-back losses to two of the Western Conference’s best teams in the Warriors and the Spurs. Tonight they look to get back in the win column against the new-look Atlanta Hawks.

The bench continues to be the bright spot for the Lakers; they tallied 45 points in the loss to the Spurs. Coach D’Antoni, still tinkering around with his rotation, played Steve Nash only 23 minutes. Additionally, Shawne Williams and Nick Young played only 21 and 18 minutes respectively as D’Antoni rode out Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry even after the latter’s scary looking incident.

The Lakers split their two meetings with the Hawks last season, with each team winning on their home court, but both games went down to the wire. This season the Hawks have a new coach in former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer and have added former Utah Jazz standout Paul Millsap. The Hawks come into this game with a 1-1 record after their victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Frontcourt: Al Horford and Paul Millsap may be a little undersized, but they form one of the most intense, ferocious frontcourt combinations in the entire NBA. Horford is one of the most well-rounded bigs in the league as he can punish you inside and outside, offensively and defensively. Millsap makes up for his lack of size with a relentless attack and never-ending energy. Pau Gasol has played admirably through the first three games, but will have to be more aggressive offensively as Horford is extremely difficult to move out of his position. While Shawne Williams has struggled offensively, his length could be key in limiting Millsap down low.

In addition to those two down low, Demarre Carroll is another athlete with a great motor. While he averages only 11 points, he also adds three steals a game because of his activity on the defensive end. The common theme with the Hawks frontcourt players is activity. It will be imperative for the Lakers to know where these guys are and put a body on them when shots go up. If they struggle early with that, we may see Jordan Hill a little sooner than normal as he has excelled on the boards so far this season.

Nick Young has really struggled offensively through the first three games and he will need to turn it on soon if the Lakers plan on getting back on track or risk losing more minutes to Johnson and Henry.

Backcourt: The Hawks boast an underrated but extremely talented backcourt as Jeff Teague is one of, if not the most, underrated point guards in the NBA. He is averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 assists through the first two games and he is the playmaker for this team. Next to him is one of the game’s premier shooters in Kyle Korver. Korver does the vast majority of his damage from outside the arc, and his size, at 6’8, could make it extremely difficult for Steve Blake to challenge his jumper.

Blake, along with Steve Nash, will be challenged again against this Hawks backcourt. Nash had some open looks against the Spurs that he normally makes, but he just couldn’t get them to fall. Both guards have struggled to get their shots to fall so far, and with their defensive deficiencies, it has become more commonplace to see Jordan Farmar and Jodie Meeks get the majority of the key minutes. The Lakers must be able to match up defensively with the Hawks as their guards really control the game for them.

The Hawks are also missing key contributor Louis Williams who is recovering from a torn ACL. Williams is one of the league’s best sixth men and his absence robs the Hawks of one of their best shot creators.

Keys To Lakers’ Victory:
Play Of The Starters: The Lakers starting lineup has been incredibly lackluster through the first three games as Pau Gasol has been the only starter performing at an acceptable level. The bench has been able to prop the Lakers up when needed, but they can only do that so many times.

While the Hawks boast a solid starting lineup, their best guy off the bench is career journeyman Cartier Martin. The only other two players getting regular minutes are veteran big man Elton Brand and rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder, leaving the Hawks starters very little room for error.

The Lakers must get off to a good start which means Young and Williams, in particular, have to start knocking down some shots. The Lakers have a clear advantage when these teams go to their respective benches, if the Lakers starters can hold up their end, or at least get some Hawks starters in foul trouble, Atlanta has very little to turn to.

Controlling The Boards: The Hawks average only 35 rebounds a game with Al Horford the only above average rebounder on the team. While very active, the team is undersized down low since no one stands above 6’9. Collectively, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, and Jordan Hill must put a body on everyone defensively and crash the offensive glass as that can be an effective way to get easy buckets against this team.

The Lakers have done an excellent job of rebounding as a team; Meeks, Johnson, Henry, and Farmar are all capable of snatching rebounds out of crowds. They must take advantage of a subpar rebounding team and make sure the Hawks aren’t able to poach any second chance points.

Three-Point Shooting: Both of these teams rank near the top of the league in three-pointers attempted. The Lakers, however, shoot a much better percentage from deep and have more shooting options than the Hawks. Blake, Meeks, Henry, Farmar, and Johnson are all shooting better than 40 percent from deep. If the Lakers can get Young, Williams, and Nash going from deep, then they’ll have a chance of shooting the Hawks right out of the building.

The Hawks boast the always dangerous Kyle Korver, who is capable of heating up at any moment. Cartier Martin, DeMarre Carroll, and Jeff Teague are all capable of making threes, but are all average shooters at best who probably take many more threes than they should. If both teams are taking the same amount of threes, the Lakers have the advantage and they must keep that advantage to come out with the W.

Atlanta Hawks (1-1) at Los Angeles Lakers (1-2)
6:30 PM PST, November 3, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPNLA

Hawks Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Kyle Korver
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Horford

Key Reserves: SF Cartier Martin PF Elton Brand  PG Dennis Schroeder   

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