Kobe Bryant asked Dwight Howard to return to Orlando, a place he called home (both personally and professionally) for eight years, and remind them of what they were now missing out on. I’d say responding to jeers, mean-spirited signs and shirts and an absurd amount of intentional fouls with a 39-point, 16 rebound, 3 block game did exactly that. Following the game, Howard told Laker sideline reporter Mike Trudell it was time to “go out and dominate every night“, and I couldn’t agree more.
Since their last meeting with the Lakers, a hard-fought 99-98 victory for L.A., the Hawks have been in a bit of a tailspin. Losers of 6-7, they find themselves in a similar position as the Lakers, as they are fighting to hold onto the 7th seed (East). At this point, much like the Lakers, Atlanta must find a way to stay out of the 8th spot in order to avoid the top-seeded Miami Heat. Unlike Atlanta, the Lakers are on their hottest streak of the season.
They’ve not only gone 9-2 since the All-Star break, but they are 17-6 since falling to 17-25 (W/L) on January 23rd. These Lakers were once 5-15 on the road, and while their 12-20 road record will not intimidate anyone, they have gone 7-5 over their last 12 trips away from Staples. If they have any aspirations of continuing to pursue teams like Houston (one game ahead in the loss column) and Golden St. (two games), they’ll have to continue their current momentum against current playoff teams like the Hawks (19-11 at home).
Frontcourt: Al Horford and Josh Smith remain the anchors of Atlanta’s front line. Horford, who had 24 points but only five rebounds in their last meeting, does more and more of his work as a face-up player when going against Howard. That said, prior to last night’s blowout loss in Miami, Horford had been averaging 12.5 rebounds over his prior four outings. Specifically due to the manner by which they were embarrassed by the defending champions, I expect Horford (and his teammates) to play with a sense of urgency.
Josh Smith, once a beast on the backboards and a constant threat in transition or for backdoor lobs, now does most of his work from the outside, as well. Even though he hasn’t had a double-digit rebound game since March 1st, Smith is also a player I expect to bring an enthused performance given the way Bryant not only scored the last six points of the game (March 3), but left all of Staples buzzing following this dunk:
Backcourt: Jeff Teague injured his ankle last night vs. the Heat, and his status is is uncertain. One thing is almost certain, if the normally speedy Teague happens to play, he should be an easier matchup for Steve Nash to defend. Devin Harris, however, has a bigger frame, and may attempt to take Nash into the post at times.
DeShawn Stevenson, while not the greatest offensive threat, has been used as the primary defender on Bryant, but can also knock down the shot from beyond the arc if not properly monitored. Even though Kyle Korver is listed as a SF, he spends most of his time behind the 3-point line. Whether it is Bryant or MWP guarding him, Korver must be defended beyond the arc on a consistent basis.
Keys To Victory:
Defend The 3-point Line: If you remember the previous time these teams face one another, it was a double-digit lead until the Lakers permitted the Hawks to make a run in the second half, behind 5-11 from beyond the arc from Korver and Harris. They have to not only focus on getting back on the fast break, but they must close out and protect against shooters settling into open looks.
Limit Transition, No Easy Buckets: The guards and forwards must make a concerted effort to keep the floor balanced, and make it back when the Hawks get out on the break. They also can’t afford to to give up excessive backdoor lobs and secondary fast break opportunities. The Lakers must also crash the boards, and see to it that they keep the Atlanta off their own offensive glass.
Continue Momentum, Play With A Purpose: The Lakers cannot afford to rest upon the “second night of a back-to-back” excuse, as the Hawks were in Miami last night. With that said, the Hawks will undoubtedly bring a tremendous effort, and it will be a matter of which team executes in crucial situations better than the other. These Lakers have shown signs of both mental and physical toughness over the past couple weeks, but Wednesday’s game will be one of the most difficult tests of the year.
Los Angeles Lakers (34-31) vs. Atlanta Hawks (34-29)
4:30 PM PST, March 13, 2013
Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA.
TV: Time Warner Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Hawks’ Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeff Teague (ankle), Devin Harris
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Josh Smith
PF: Al Horford
C: Johan Petro
Key Reserves: F/G: Kyle Korver, G: Dahntay Jones, F: Anthony Tolliver