Written by: Devin Ugland
The All-Star break could not have come at a more perfect time for the Lakers. After a great start to the ‘Grammy’ road trip, the Lakers finished the seven-game east coast swing with three consecutive uninspired losses, one against the Magic, and two against a couple of the worst teams in the league, the Bobcats and the Cavaliers. The trip that began so promising with four straight victories, including two big wins over the Celtics and the Knicks, ended with yet more uncertainty in Lakerland.
Despite the disappointing finish to the road trip, the show must go on. The Lakers welcome the Atlanta Hawks (34-21) Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Lakers All-Star duo of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol helped lead the Western Conference to victory on Sunday, and Laker fans are hoping they can bring the same fire and intensity to the court against the Hawks.
This is the first meeting of the season between the two teams, the Lakers and Hawks split the season series last year, with Kobe averaging 34.5 points per game in the two games. This is a tough matchup for the purple and gold, as the young, athletic Hawks can expose some defensive mismatches. Kobe, Pau and the crew should be expecting an up-and-down game, which should reach triple digits on the scoreboard.
Atlanta brings in a couple All-Stars of their own in Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Johnson is a big-time scorer (19.6 ppg) who can beat you with the three, a drive to the basket, or hit the fade-away-jumper. Ron Artest will likely draw the assignment of guarding Johnson. Horford is an undersized center who focuses most of his effort on defense and rebounding (9.8 rpg and 1 block). His energy and effort make up for his lack of offensive prowess.
Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith might be the biggest worry for the Lakers in this game. Crawford, a perennial Sixth-Man-of-the-Year candidate, is instant offense off the bench. He is lightning-quick and can run up 20-plus points in the blink of an eye. We all know what Smith likes to do, and the Lakers must keep these guys in check.
Three Keys to a Laker victory:
1. Pound the ball inside to Pau and ‘Drew. This is said nearly every game, but it is especially important tonight. The Hawks look to get out and run off of any miss, and a high-percentage shot selection will keep their fast-breaks at bay.
2. Limit Turnovers. Atlanta feeds off the energy of big dunks, and scoring-runs –turnovers will only help them get out in transition. The Lakers have to get back on defense to avoid any plays that may electrify the Hawks squad.
3. Execute. The Lakers are at their best when playing as an engaged unit, both on offense and defense. They must focus on executing the triangle on the offensive end, and playing to their strengths on the defensive end.