Lakers vs. Hawks Pre-Game Report: L.A. Ready for Staples Center Homecoming

Atlanta Hawks (18-10) @ Los Angeles Lakers (16-12)
7:30 PM PST, February 14, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Fox Sports West, NBALP
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Hawks Projected Starting Lineup

PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Marvin Williams
PF: Josh Smith
C: Zaza Pachulia

Hawks Injury Report: C Jason Collins, OUT

After finally finishing their longest road trip of the season the Lakers are back in the friendly confines of the Staples Center Tuesday night. However, their opponent will be anything but friendly. The Lakers will host the Atlanta Hawks (18-10), who have won two of their last three games. Atlanta currently has the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference, and is looking to improve their record against Western Conference opponents. This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season.

Backcourt: Once again the Lakers find themselves up against a team with a superior point guard. While Jeff Teague may not be as strong as Jeremy Lin or Jose Calderon, he is still a very productive player that can create some matchup problems for Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Teague is currently averaging 12.1 points per game, but the Lakers have given up 30 points or more to the two previous point guards they’ve faced. It will be important for Los Angeles to control Teague and limit his scoring chances.

Frontcourt: The Hawks are a team that is currently limited in the paint. With Al Horford injured they just don’t have the firepower in the post that they used to when he was in the lineup. Still, Josh Smith is an explosive player that can shoot from distance when needed. This will cause Pau Gasol to leave the paint on defense in certain situations, which isn’t always his comfort zone. If Smith is able to have a hot shooting night and provide more than his average of 15.6 points per game, the Lakers bigs may find themselves in trouble.

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Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Control the Paint: It sounds like a broken record, but the Lakers need to utilize their big men more often offensively. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are two of the top three offensive threats on the team, but unfortunately they have lacked consistency this season. The guards, mainly Fisher, Blake and Kobe Bryant, need to make it a point of emphasis to run the offense through the post. Atlanta’s big men are undersized and unable to control a truly dominant post game, which the Lakers have (when they want to utilize it).

Limit Jeff Teague: Opposing point guards have been killing the Lakers all season, and it has led to some unsettling defeats. Since players like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are expected to get their fair share of points, limiting the players that don’t always score is crucial. If the team can control the offensive output from Teague they should have enough firepower to outscore the remaining Hawks players.

Protect the Ball: The Lakers have been struggling mightily with turnovers this season. The team is averaging 14.8 turnovers per game, which is one of the highest marks in the league. Giving free points to a team like Atlanta is dangerous, so controlling the ball will be even more important tonight. If the Lakers can limit their turnovers and force Atlanta to take difficult shots they should be able to come away with a victory against a tough Eastern Conference opponent.

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