Preview & Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  March 29, 2009

NBA: MAR 23 Timberwolves at Hawks
Records: Lakers 58-14 (1st in the West) Hawks 42-31 (4th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (2nd in league) Hawks 109.5 (10th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (6th in league) Hawks 107.4 (12th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hawks Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia

Lakers Coming In: Kobe Bryant will be a game time decision. I am not a doctor and I’m not going to play one on the Web, Kobe knows how he feels and if he can go. This is not something where he is risking long-term damage, so it’s a matter of pain management. It’s his call. That said, it would be nice to have a game where he can sit the fourth if he does play.

Also, since the Lakers are playing the Hawks, it seems a good time to revisit this:

The Hawks Coming In: The Hawks are pretty locked into the four seed in the East — nobody is catching any of the top three and they are three games up on Miami in the five spot. (If there was one team I’d like to avoid in the first round in the East it is Miami, Wade is playing that well, Atlanta better start planning now.)

Joe Johnson continues to be the leading scorer and offensive focal point for the Hawks, scoring 26.6 a game in the last 10. One thing you have to watch on him — Johnson is red hot from three lately hitting 47.8% from deep in the last 10. Have to close out on him, open threes will fall.

The guy playing well is backup point guard Flip Murray. The only NBA player ever out of Shaw University is averaging 15 points a game and shooting 41% from three in his last 10, and he is up to playing nearly 27 minutes a game. Farmar has his defensive challenge.

Keys To The Game:Two things from the meeting last month the Lakers need to repeat. First, the Lakers dominated the glass — Odom and Gasol had their way inside. Despite the length and athleticism the Hawks have on the front line they don’t defend the paint well and the Lakers need to exploit that.

Second, last time these two met the Lakers starters played the Hawks even until the Lakers started to pull away thanks to a run from the bench. Ahhh, remember those days. Lately I’ve been trying to think of a new nickname for the bench and have been leaning toward Decaf — because coffee is for closers.

Everything with the Hawks offense starts with Joe Johnson. He is the one Atlanta player most capable of beating you in the half court, so the Lakers need to focus on taking him away and not letting him get the hot hand. What the Hawks do on offense in the half court is simple, basically iso and some high screens for Johnson and Murray, with those guys trying to create for everyone. It is very defendable IF you play as a team.

What can get the Lakers into trouble in this game is not protecting the ball — the Hawks thrive when they can get turnovers and turn those into easy baskets in transition. They have great open court finishers. So they play an aggressive defense, they try to deny passes out on the wings and go for steals. They gamble all over the court. If the Lakers start the offense through Gasol flashing into the high post he should have opportunities to hit cutters who get open as their man overplays going for a steal an leaving the cut to the basket open. Player movement in the half court and few turnovers will be key.

Make Josh Smith shoot jumpers, don’t let him get to the rim.

Where you can watch: 12:30 matinee out here in the West. KCAL 9 in LA.