Lakers Vs. Hawks Preview: Lakers Begin Three-Game Road Trip

USATSI_8200683_154224518_lowresThe Los Angeles Lakers will experience a bit of a lapse in their brutal schedule, as they hit the road to face off against the Atlanta Hawks in a cross-country duel. Coming off a humiliating loss to the in-state rival Golden State Warriors, the Lakers will seek to rebound as Nick Young returns to the rotation since suffering a torn ligament in his shooting hand in early October. Sitting at a franchise worst (1-9), Los Angeles hopes to capture a win versus a hot Hawks team – that’s been victorious in four of their last five contests – before concluding their road trip vs. two of Texas’ finest later this week.

Frontcourt: Al Horford has struggled to climb his way back to elite status since appearing to reach his peak early on last season, prior to suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. The former Florida Gator was averaging a career high 18.6 points in 29 games and would have easily been the difference between a Hawks team that was ousted in the first-round and a potential threat to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. A two time All-Star, Horford is arguably one of the most versatile big-man in the NBA with his defensive prowess and wide arsenal of offensive weapons.

A familiar face amongst Lakers fans, Paul Millsap mans the power forward position in just his second season in Atlanta. Millsap was formerly a member of the Utah Jazz, that met the Lakers in the playoffs numerous times, serving as a prominent backup to Carlos Boozer. Last season the 8-year veteran elevated his game to new heights in Horford’s absence. He carried an inexperienced Hawks team to the eighth seed and also captured his lone All-Star berth in the process. Millsap excels offensively stretching the floor to create space, complementing Horford’s game interior game perfectly.

Defensive commodity, Thabo Sefolosha will receive the starting nod in the absence of DeMarre Carroll at small forward. Sefolosha is an uber competitive defender, especially when guarding familiar foe, Kobe Bryant. Aside from his defense, Sefolosha is extremely limited. He’s an afterthought offensively due to his incredibly slow release and inability to score on a consistent basis.

Backcourt: Kyle Korver must be accounted for at all times as he is one of the greatest three-point shooters of this generation. The sharpshooter has been on a tear lately, converting an ungodly 57.7% of his three-point attempts through nine games. Korver is fully capable of catching fire in an instant, so Byron Scott must emphasize airtight defense on him or risk drastic consequences.

Atlanta’s brass made a dubious call when they matched an offer sheet in 2013 worth four-years, $32 million to retain Jeff Teague after he clearly indicated his strong desire to abandon ship. $8 million per year is not awful, but Teague has never really proven to be worthy of that type of cash. He’s always been a very good player, just not great at anything in particular. He’s a mediocre outside shooter, a shoddy defender, an inefficient scorer and a bit of a head-case at times, yet he’s managed to post a solid 15 points and 7 assists as a starter. Teague will explode for a magnificent 25 point and 15 assist game one night and then score eight points on two for nine shooting the next. That’s partially the reason why head coach Mike Budenholzer has gradually increased NBA sophomore Dennis Shroder’s minutes as of late, even benching Teague down the stretch on a few occasions.

Keys to Victory:
Defense, defense, defense: Atlanta is not a powerhouse per say, but they possess the firepower to potentially torch the Lakers paltry defense. The Lakers have done a poor job defending the three-point line – they’ve allowed opponents to shot 41.7% from deep. They will also need to try to limit Millsap and Horford in the paint. If the Lakers play passable defense then they could potentially upset the Hawks on the road.

Sharing the Sugar: Kobe has admittedly been a bit too aggressive offensively this season, preventing his teammates from finding a rhythm at the start. His aggressiveness is obviously justified at times as he simply can’t take a backseat to “crime,” but Bryant is no longer capable of dragging his team to victory at such an advanced age. Therefore, Kobe needs to make a concerted effort to get everybody involved on offense. He can’t hoist up thirty plus shots and expect the his teammates to be able to contribute on offense.

Nick Young: Los Angeles’ bench will receive an essential boost Tuesday night as Swaggy P makes his highly anticipated return from thumb surgery. During a bleak 2013-14 campaign, Young added a pleasant boost off the bench with his superb scoring ability and always-jovial personality. Though he will require some time to regain his sea legs, Nick Young could provide a spark off the bench and help Kobe put points on the board.

Atlanta Hawks (5-4) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (1-9)
4:30 PST, November 18,
Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Suns Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Kyle Korver
SF: Thabo Sefolosha
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Horford

Key Reserves: PG: Dennis Schroder, PF: Mike Scott, C: Pero Antic

Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill

Lakers vs. GSW: Kobe Talks Shaq Sitting Courtside, Team’s Mood

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