The Los Angeles Lakers get a matchup tonight against the East-leading Atlanta Hawks just two days removed from getting swept in their season series against the league-worst New York Knicks. They notched a win against the Hawks earlier this season and will be looking to pick up just their second win in the last eight games. This will be a tall order as the Hawks are as talented as any team in the league, as evidenced by their four representatives at this year’s All Star Game.
Frontcourt: Al Horford is arguably the Hawks’ best overall player and certainly their best two-way player. He is a slow and steady grinder, a player who isn’t wildly explosive, but one that is incredibly consistent. Shooting 53.2 percent from the field, Horford is a polished offensive player, capable of scoring from the block while also being one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. He is also a great passer, averaging 3.3 assists a game on the season. Defensively, he is able to play both man and help defense at a very high level.
The Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder, Paul Millsap has come a long way as a pro. Originally pegged as an undersized power forward, Millsap has shown that he can be an offensive focal point on a winning team. He is averaging 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and a whopping 1.8 steals a game. Offensively, he has added range to his game and is now fully comfortable stepping out and shooting the long ball. He isn’t the rim protector that Horford is, but he is stout and immovable on the block, which translates to solid man defense..
The lone starter not named an All Star this season for the Hawks is DeMarre Carroll. While he may be relatively unheralded, Carroll is the perfect glue guy for his team. He has steadily developed into a do-it-all utility player that can play defense and knock down three-pointers. Like his teammates, he is an unselfish and cerebral player who only takes the shots that the defense gives him. This is reflected in his efficiency as he holds season averages of 11.9 points on 47.2 percent shooting, which is incredible for a fifth option.
Backcourt: At lead guard, Jeff Teague has developed into a very capable game manager. Teague might lack the physical presence of some of his peers, but he is as quick as any of them. The speedy guard is the Hawks’ primary penetrator and often creates plays for Millsap and Horford. The Hawks are among the most unselfish teams in basketball and Teague’s average of 7.2 assists doesn’t truly reflect just how much he makes this offense go. His slight frame can make him a bit of a liability on defense at times, but this shortcoming is well hidden by the Hawks’ defensive scheme. For good measure, he chips in 1.7 steals a game.
Kyle Korver rounds out the Hawks’ starting lineup and he is in a perfect system for his skillset as he is one of the best shooters in the world. With multiple teammates that can draw double coverage, Korver has been living on the perimeter, knocking down open three-pointers at a historic pace when you consider both efficiency and volume. He averages 12.6 points a game with an incredible 3.0 made three-pointers a game, meaning that nearly 75 percent of his points come from beyond the arc. His overall efficiency is also through the roof, as he is shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 90.2 percent from the line.
Keys to Victory:
Keep Korver in Check: This is far easier said than done as the Hawks have so many guys that are tough covers one on one, but the Lakers defender marking Korver absolutely has to stick to him like glue. The new wave of analytics basketball very much favors the three-point shot even at a pedestrian percentage, but at Korver’s otherworldly percentage, that will be a shot that the Hawks are actively looking for. The Hawks are a very unselfish team, so any lack of discipline sticking to Korver will likely result in a quick triple for the sharpshooter.
Clarkson and Lin: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin have come up big in the majority of the Lakers’ games without Kobe Bryant. The Lakers really don’t have the offensive weapons on the frontline to challenge Horford and Millsap, so it will be up to these two point guards to get into the paint to do their damage. Clarkson has gotten better in each of his starts and will need to continue to find a balance between scoring and distributing as the season progresses.
Los Angeles Lakers (17-47) vs. Atlanta Hawks (51-14)
6:30 PM PST, March 15, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Hawks Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Kyle Korver
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Jeff Teague
Key Reserves: PG: Dennis Schroder, SG: Kent Bazemore, PF: Pero Antic
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Tarik Black
C: Jordan Hill
Rookie Jordan Clarkson After Lakers Loss To New York Knicks