The Atlanta Hawks will stand in the Los Angeles Lakers’ way on Friday when LeBron James and Co. will try to win their fourth straight game for the first time this season.
The Hawks will come to Crypto.com Arena weakened by injuries and the coronavirus (COVID-19). Trae Young missed the last game with a back problem and is listed as a game-time decision.
Gorgui Dieng as well as 10-day signees Cameron Oliver and Chris Clemons remain in the NBA’s health and safety protocols for the Hawks, however, while De’Andre Hunter and Solomon Hill are out with long-term injuries.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins and rookie Jalen Johnson recently tested out of the COVID-19 protocols but are also considered game-time decisions. All three have missed at least four games due to the virus.
Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn are the only Lakers who will watch the clash from the sidelines, as they continue rehabbing their knee injuries. Stanley Johnson returns to the rotation having signed another 10-day contract with L.A. earlier this week.
The Lakers could start the game with the same lineup as on Tuesday — featuring LeBron James at the five — considering even the size of the Sacramento Kings’ roster didn’t deter head coach Frank Vogel from coming out with a small-ball lineup for tip-off.
However, Dwight Howard should spend some big minutes on the floor again, helping to contain rebound machine Clint Capela in the paint.
Errors could cost L.A deadly on Friday. The Purple and Gold will face a team that owns one of the NBA’s best offenses (with a 114.2 offensive rating, the second-highest in the league) and one of the worst defenses (114.1 defensive rating, the fourth-worst in the league) in Atlanta.
L.A. needs to be the more balanced team on the court, capitalizing on the Hawks’ weaknesses and not allowing the rivals to find their rhythm on offense. The Lakers did that against Sacramento, fending off the Kings’ offensive charge and snatching the win away thanks to patience and extra effort in protecting the ball.
They had just five turnovers on Tuesday, the fewest number this season. And, Russell Westbrook didn’t turn the ball over even once for the first time in six years.
Atlanta forces the least opponent turnovers in the league (11.8), so L.A. will have no excuse if it’s careless with the ball again.
A collectively better effort to box out and wrestle for rebounds should be the other main point of the Lakers’ game plan.
L.A. has given up 51.7 boards per game over the last there games, the fourth-most in the NBA — a number that must make Capela, who gets 13.1 boards per night, rub his hands in the lead-up to the clash.
The Lakers enter the matchup tied with the Phoenix Suns for the third-longest active winning streak in the Western Conference. They finally belong among teams that spark basketball discussions but for all the good reasons.
With some patience, caution, and luck, they can remain there by winning their fourth straight — showing their rivals the tides are turning at last.
Lakers (20-19) vs. Hawks (17-20)
7:00 p.m. PT, Jan. 7, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Malik Monk
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: LeBron James
Key Reserves: Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Carmelo Anthony, Stanley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard
Projected Hawks Starting Lineup:
PG: Trae Young
SG: Kevin Huerter
SF: Cam Reddish
PF: John Collins
C: Clint Capella
Key Reserves: Delon Wright, Lou Williams, Onyeka Okongwu, Danilo Gallinari, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
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