Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 5, 2007

Did you see Smush play defense? The Lakers had maybe their best defensive game of the year against the Wizards on Saturday, and Gatinho sat down with a pen and paper and tracked Smush:

Well, last night was an over all good game for Smush. He used his length to bother Arenas and was savvy enough not to leave his feet on jump shots. He was blown by twice in the game, but overall he kept Arenas out of the paint by playing him for the drive but over playing his right hand to force him left. Twice Arenas had to go behind his back to go left, one resulting in a spectacular play the other ending up in a turnover.

His offensive game was positive. No early in the shot clock forced threes, which in my opinion he should never be able to take. He made his man pay for doubling off him by going to the hoop for a couple easy chippies. He clanked a couple wide-open threes early but they were within the offense. I don’t really consider unsuccessful forays to the basket negatives because it is crucial that he does this to keep the defense honest. Most of the times he was unsuccessful were due to his indecision as he got close tot the basket. He’s just not that great of a finisher.

He had only one stretch in the third where he affected the momentum of the game. He missed wide open three and then fouled Daniels for an and one, but before that he had stolen the ball from Etan Thomas.

But the defensive effort against Arenas was crucial to this win. He got a lot of help and with Jamison out the Lakers were able to focus a little more on Agent 9-29.

Marching on Atlanta.
Yes the Hawks are at the bottom of the lEastern Conference standings, but they are 5-5 in their last 10 and that includes a win at New Jersey yesterday.

Leading the way is Joe Johnson, who is averaging 27.8 in the lat 10 games shooting 53.1% (eFG%). He shoots well from both wings (the only spots his numbers are not good is straight on). When the Lakers played the Hawks back in December he had 30 points and shot 53.9%.

Also in the last 10 games the Hawks have gotten solid play out of Josh Smith (16 and 8 a night), but he is all about getting to the basket, he has no midrange game and if he lines up to take the three — let him. Then there is Josh Childress (12 a game shooting 53.2% in the last 10) but he is all threes and drives to the basket, force him into a midrange game and he crumbles.

About that last meeting. The Lakers got a team high 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting from Luke Walton, who is still expected to miss this game. They also got 13 from Kwame Brown, who is out.

On the other hand, this was one of the games Kobe missed. So it pretty much balances out.

Lotta Love. I watched a chunk of the high school basketball game on Fox Sports involving Kevin Love, and I have to say if you are a UCLA fan you should be pumped. To me, he is kind of the opposite of Andrew Bynum coming out of school — Love is very polished to go with his great natural touch and feel for the game. That, plus being 6-10, 250 makes him a force in high school, and he will do well in college. He stepped out and drained a three, could score with either hand, just seemed to have a knack for being where the ball would be for rebounds and passes very well out of the post and on outlets.

It’s a ways away, but I wonder how he’ll do in the NBA. This is not a blow-you-away athlete, and at some point he’s going to face better athletes who have touch and basketball IQ as well. I don’t know how that will go — how would a below-the-rim player ala Bill Waton fit in today’s high flying game? What about in the perimeter-based NBA? One game is not enough to make much of a projection long term (how much can he improve), and the kid will have a place at the NBA level because he can board, outlet and be solid inside. But an NBA star…..

Things to look for. Defense again. The Hawks are 29th in the league in offensive efficiency (the average 7 fewer points per 100 possessions than the Lakers, and remember there will be about 90 possessions in this game). They are the third worst shooting team in the NBA, 46.9% (eFG%), and that has not improved in the last 10 games.

The key is not letting their athletes get to the basket. This is a quick team that plays great isolation games, but outside of Johnson nobody shoots well from the outside. If the Lakers play like they did in Washington, they can really slow the Hawks and make this easier on themselves.

Run the offense. This is along the same general lines as the defensive comments — the Hawks are athletic and young. Try to make this an individual game and it will be close, play team basketball and the Lakers can win handily.

Nice to catch the Hawks in the second game of a back-to-back, with the first game going to overtime. Another reason to win this one, and even get a big lead early and rest the starters late.