The Los Angeles Lakers are 4-1 since the All-Star break. Kobe Bryant is on a tear lately, as he is averaging 31.2 points, 6.4 assists and 6.8 rebounds on 55.8 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent three-point shooting since the All-Star break (five games). The Lakers are coming off a convincing victory on Thursday night against Minnesota, where the bench poured in 52 points allowing Kobe Bryant to rest the entire fourth quarter. The Lakers remain two and a half games behind Houston, who also play tonight, as their quest for the playoffs continues.
The Lakers and the Hawks are pretty evenly matched when you look at each team’s statistics. The only major difference is their records, as Atlanta is already in playoff position, while LA is still on their climb to takeover the eighth and final postseason spot in the West. Since the Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968, the Lakers have an all-time record of 72-43 against the Hawks with 42-16 home a record against Atlanta. The Lakers have won their last six-straight games against the Hawks at Staples Center.
Frontcourt: Even though Atlanta’s offense is pretty evenly spread among their starting five, their frontcourt is the focal point of their game plan. After dealing with constant trade rumors in the first half of the season, Josh Smith remains in an Atlanta uniform for at least the remainder of the season. Smith is posting 17.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game on 45.7 percent shooting. However, Smith has a habit for pulling up for ill-advised threes, which he is shooting a poor 32.1 percent. Therefore, the further the Lakers push Smith out on offense, the better. Smith is also turnover-friendly, averaging 3.0 per game.
The second part of Atlanta’s frontcourt is Al Horford. Horford equals Smith in points per game with 17.2, but he averages 10.0 rebounds per game and needs to be kept off the glass. If Dwight could limit Horford’s offense, the Lakers would have a much easier time getting a victory. The point differential between wins and losses by Horford is around 5 points. Horford is having a superb last ten games, where he is posting 22.7 points and 11.1 rebounds on 63.5 percent shooting.
Kyle Korver can be a killer on offense if he gets hot because he spreads the floor and can knock down perimeter shots very efficiently. In fact, he is shooting 46.5 percent from the three, while adding 11.4 points to the offense per game. Backup center Zaza Pachulia can be very aggressive, and must be equally matched with physicality in the post by the Lakers’ second unit. Pachulia is averaging 6.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. However, his minutes may be limited as he is battling an achilles injury.
Backcourt: Jeff Teague has had some big games over the lat ten games, as he is averaging 16.7 points and 9.1 assists on 48.0 percent shooting. It will be key to prevent his playmaking skills, which will mean that Steve Nash must stay ahead of him on defense. Too often, opposing point guards turn the corner on Nash too easily, which leads to easy buckets.
DeShawn Stevenson and Devin Harris have been alternating starting spots and sharing minutes to fill the void of the injured Lou Williams. Stevenson’s stats are down on the season compared to his career averages, but he tends to get the starting nod when Atlanta wants a more defensive body. Since they are facing Kobe Bryant tonight, expect to see solid minutes from Stevenson. Devin Harris is more consistent on offense, which is why he usually digs into Stevenson’s minutes. Harris remains a shoot-first type of guard, which hurt him as a point guard with the Nets and Jazz, but now that he is getting time as a 2-guard, the effects of that are lessened. However, his stats have still dropped this season, as he is averaging 9.0 points and 2.8 assists in 24.0 minutes.
Keys to Victory:
Bench Contribution- Atlanta’s bench is ranked 26th in the NBA for their 30.3 efficiency rating and are ranked 29th in the NBA for their defensive efficiency rating of -9.0. Atlanta’s second unit additionally allows their opponent’s second unit to have a 39.3 efficiency rating (29th in the league), while allowing the opponent’s bench to score 34.7 points per game (24th in the league).
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers’ bench has been more active averaging 33.0 points per game (14 in the NBA), with a 36.8 efficiency rating. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s bench has struggled with 26.2 points per game (28th in the NBA) and a 28.2 efficiency rating (26th in NBA) since the All-Star break (six games). The Suns took advantage of this weakness against Atlanta the other night as Phoenix’s second unit was able to score 58 points on Atlanta’s reserves, which caused them to win the game. LA’s bench must continue their improved performance and take advantage of the Hawk’s weak bench.
Stop the Extra Pass- This is where the Lakers’ defense must come into play. The Hawks are playing much less of the iso game since former Hawk Joe Johnson was dealt to Brooklyn. Now, they spread the floor quite well and move the ball equally as well. In fact, Atlanta is ranked second in the league for assists per game with 24.3. As an effect, the Hawks are first in the league for assists per field goal made at 65.1 percent. All that extra passing is allowing the Hawks to shoot 38.2 percent from the three (4th in NBA) and 49.6 percent from two-point shots (8th in NBA). The Lakers must stop the extra pass, especially to Teague or Korver out on the perimeter, and force them into one-on-one match-ups.
Maintain a Half-court Game: It is no secret that transition defense is arguably the Lakers’ biggest problem this season. The game against the Denver Nuggets illustrated this point in a big way on Monday night. The Atlanta Hawks are a great transition team, as they average 17.2 fast break points per game (3rd in NBA). The Lakers must limit their turnovers and keep it a half-court game for 48 minutes to hide those old legs that struggle to get back on defense. I know I sound like a broken record this season, but the Lakers need to limit their turnovers to fewer than twelve.
Atlanta Hawks (33-24) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (29-30)
6:30 PM PST, March 3, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Hawks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Kyle Korver
PF: Josh Smith
C: Al Horford
Key Reservers: PG Devin Harris, C Zaza Pachulia