The Los Angeles Lakers production on the court has varied tremendously this season, with the product on the court lately not resembling a team headed in the right direction. The difficult schedule in December laid the foundation for their current nine-game losing streak.
Sunday figures to provide the Lakers with an opportunity to stop the skid, as they face the only team with a worse record in the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks. Lakers head coach Luke Walton has expressed his frustrations to the media lately, stating the results on the court isn’t what the fans deserve to see.
Entering the contest, the Hawks rank 18th in the NBA in offensive rating (104), but are 27th in defensive rating (108.1). On the other hand, the Lakers rank second-to-last in offensive ratings (100.9), but are the middle of the pack with a 15th-ranked defensive rating (105.9).
Although they suffered a loss at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets, the Lakers welcomed back Lonzo Ball to the court. Not only did he orchestrate the offense and provide many easy baskets, but also impacted the defensive glass and help-side rotations.
Brook Lopez has also returned to the lineup for Walton, bringing back some offensive and defensive stability in the paint.
The interior defense of Los Angeles also took a big hit on Saturday, as the front office announced the release of Andrew Bogut. The domino effect included Thomas Bryant receiving a call-up from South Bay.
The Hawks haven’t fared well on the road this season, with an NBA-worst 3-17 record away from Philips Arena. Dennis Schroder is a focal point of the Atlanta offense, with his average of 19.6 points, but he also dishes out 6.7 assists per game.
Schroder is joined in the backcourt by former Laker Kent Bazemore, an athletic wing that is a pesky defender. Bazemore is also a streaky presence on offense, capable of lighting up the score once he gains confidence.
Ersan Ilyasova and Taurean Prince are both coming off of subpar shooting performances, combing for 20 points on 8-for-22 shooting during a 110-89 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Without a true All-Star on their rosters, both teams need to rely on consistent production from all their players to normally be competitive.
While Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are both in the running for an All-Star bid, their production on the court will need to take another step forward to be in serious consideration amongst their peers.
Brandon Ingram remains the Lakers go-to option in isolation scenarios, continually working on his aggressiveness with results on drives to the rim. Ingram has been able to get by his defenders, now needing to improve his decision-making and decisiveness to also create open opportunities for his teammates.
With averages of 16 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists, many can see how his impact on the court has increased. However, fans and the front office eagerly await better shooting percentages when on the court.
Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma will need to propel the Lakers throughout the entire regular season, as this team desperately needs to turn a corner. The ongoing losing streak has really taken a toll on this young team, but that is the way the rigorous NBA season can be sometimes.
One topic the Lakers need to address is their defensive woes, allowing an average of 118 points over their last nine games.
Three Keys To Victory
Capitalize On Easy Baskets:
With Ball returning to the team, the wings of the Lakers need to constantly be running on the outlets for transition buckets. No player on Los Angeles does a better job of keeping their head up than Ball, analyzing the court before he takes his first dribble. If the Lakers can capitalize on those easy baskets, it will help create some panic for the Hawks.
Play Uptempo Composed:
When out there and running, the Lakers are one of the most exciting uptempo teams in the NBA. If they can play at a fast pace and stay composed, they can create a sizeable lead against Atlanta. Turnovers have been a defining statistic throughout the season, making poor decisions in transition.
If Ball can accumulate multiple easy outlets for his teammates, it’ll help ease the load and create drive and kick opportunities for the shooters spoting up on the wings.
Don’t Let Schroder Score Off Pick-and-Rolls:
Schroder is a quick guard that likes to dribble straight down the court. Although his handles are deceptive, he can really be effective off of screens from the top of the key. While he is capable of getting assists here and there, the Lakers would be better off limiting his scoring and forcing the Hawks to hit contested shots from outside the key.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-27) Vs. Atlanta Hawks (10-28)
6:30 P.M., PST, January 7, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr.
Projected Hawks Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: Taurean Prince
PF: Ersan Ilyasova
C: Miles Plumlee
Key Reserves: Marco Belinelli, John Collins, Isaiah Taylor