Lakers Vs. Hawks Preview: Road Trip Continues On LeBron James’ Birthday
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks are both without their primary centers — Anthony Davis and Clint Capela — as L.A. continues their East Coast road trip. With both teams underperforming, a win on either side could be an important tool to getting back on track.

The Lakers have lost five of their last six games and are 2-5 since Davis suffered a stress injury in his right foot. He is reportedly out until at least mid-January, meaning the Lakers must figure out a way to win consistently without him.

Playing a team in the Hawks — who have lost three of four and are without Capela — may be a great chance to get the ball rolling.

LeBron James is good to go on his 38th birthday despite being listed as questionable leading up to the game. Trae Young is playing as well despite his questionable tag.

Lonnie Walker IV isn’t playing, however, as he as was originally downgraded to questionable and then ruled out with a tailbone contusion. De’Andre Hunter is also out for Atlanta with a left ankle sprain.

This marks the ninth time James has played on his birthday. He is 4-4 in the previous eight, averaging 32.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists while shooting 54.7% from the field and 40.5% from 3-point range.

James has also been playing exceptional basketball in recent weeks. He’s scored at least 25 points in his last nine games played and is averaging 32.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists on 56.7 percent shooting. However, he needs some more help if the Lakers are going to steal a road win in Atlanta.

The Hawks have underwhelmed in some ways, but are still a solid home team — 11-7 record — and are led by a two-guard vehicle in Young and Dejounte Murray. Combined, the two are averaging 47.8 points and 16.1 assists per game. They also have a bit of a depth issue, but players like John Collins, Hunter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic make up a solid core.

Atlanta has the NBA’s 20th-ranked offense and the 12th-ranked defense, which has largely been anchored by Murray, Capela, and backup center Onyeka Okongwu. Okongwu is likely to start at center in place of Capela, and he and Thomas Bryant should make for an interesting battle of strengths.

Defensively, the Lakers must rely on some combination of Austin Reaves, Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schroder to defend Young and Murray. Russell Westbrook should see time facing off against one or both of the Hawks guards, but his main focus would likely be off-ball players like Bogdanovic or Aaron Holiday, should he see significant minutes.

This is a winnable game for the Lakers by virtually every metric. However, the Lakers have been an abysmal road team (6-13) while the Hawks have performed well in Atlanta. But dropping to 14-22 with a six-of-seven losing stretch would be an impossibly difficult pill to swallow.

Los Angeles Lakers (14-21) vs. Atlanta Hawks (17-18)

4:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 30, 2022
State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Austin Reaves
PF: LeBron James
C: Thomas Bryant

Key Reserves: Russell Westbrook, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Kendrick Nunn

Projected Hawks Starting Lineup:

PG: Trae Young
SG: Dejounte Murray
SF: A.J. Griffin
SP: John Collins
C: Onyeka Okongwu

Key Reserves: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Holiday, Aaron Holiday

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