Preview & Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  November 1, 2009


I’m at the game, so I’ll be throwing in running notes:

• Bynum spent a lot of warm-ups 45 minutes before the game working on little five footers with the left and right hand. When the game started he promptly missed his first two of those. (He hit the third.)

• Early on tonight, it is the Lakers forcing the Hawks into turnovers, a nice change of pace.

• Rule #1 in transition: Stop the ball. #2: Find Joe Johnson when he runs to the three point line. Lakers not doing that part.

• Why take Johnson out and sit him for a long stretch — he was 7 for 8 from the field with three 3s — if you are Atlanta? Well, because you are Atlanta, I guess.

• Through the first quarter and a half, entire Laker bench in the positive (of +/-). That is a nice change of pace.

• Lakers shoot 59.8% (eFG%) in the first half. You win a lot when that happens.

• Ron Artest on Joe Johnson at one end forces the miss, nails the three at the other. He’s starting to feel comfortable, little by little. Part of a run that has the Lakers up 64-58.

• The Lakers length and size is really bothering the Hawks inside. If LA would stop leaving Bibby at the three point line they would pull away.

• The Lakers 16-0 run, which has basically put the game away, was brought to you by the defense. LA was trapping, jumping lanes, using their length, particularly on the Hawks less stellar ballhandlers. The result was a mess of turnovers (the Hawks are giving it away on 22% of their possessions for the game) and that became a lot of easy points. And a lot of crazy fun dunks.

A couple quick locker room notes postgame: Phil said that the current five-guard rotation is not going to last forever and the guys off the bench not producing will see time cut, those who produce will get more. He really wants to get Fisher’s minutes down, but also Kobe.

Walton talked extensively about the second unit not playing well, getting too much isolation and not playing as a team. He said they realize they need to get it together.

Everyone was praising Artest.

Mike Woodson quote of the night, on taking out Joe Johnson: “Well, I pulled him because he nearly played the whole quarter… He’s got to rest sometimes.” Note to Mike — sometimes you need to ride the hot hand. Especially against the defending champs.

Records: Lakers 1-1 Hawks 2-0
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 92.5 Hawks 113.1
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 95.3 Hawks 101.8
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Hawks: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford

The Lakers Coming in: Once again, no Pau Gasol tonight. This makes 9 games missed if you count the preseason, and word is it may be weeks rather than days until he returns. Is it time to worry? Not where I sit. It’s not ideal, but hamstrings can linger. Better to rest it now — remember this is game three — then risk it getting worse.

Now let’s talk for a couple minutes about the ugliness of Friday.

First — it’s game 2 or 82, so chill out. Do you know what the award is for being the best team in the NBA in October? It’s the same as November, in case you’re curious.

The Dallas game was not about shooting percentages — the Mavericks shot 1% better than the Lakers (eFG%). What they did was attack the rim. The Mavs got to the line on 32% of their possessions, the Lakers 11%. The Mavs did a good job of trying to clog the lane, the Lakers countered by going with the three, but they hit just 7 of 23. Open shots they often hit clanged out. And when it wasn’t working, they stuck with it. When they got into the penalty a couple minutes into the fourth quarter, the next two possessions down the floor they shot threes.

The other thing, the more irksome thing in my mind, is that the Lakers dealt poorly with their frustration with the refs. They got emotional rather than playing with emotion (as Billieraven put it on twitter: Whine or Win.) The entire team — Kobe and Artest leading the way — did it. Championship teams play through the bad calls, through the frustration and regroup. For one game the Lakers did not do that.

Also, credit Dallas, who played well. This is why 72 was a great media talking point but never reality — this league is deep with good teams, the Lakers are without their second best player, there just are no easy wins.

It’s a lesson in a long season of lessons to prepare one for the playoffs. Learn and move on.

By the way, a few people in the comments have pointed to Ariza’s point totals the first couple of games. Of course he is putting up bigger numbers — he is the focal point of the offense. He has to carry the scoring load. If he were still in LA, he would not be getting the touches or putting up those stats. Still, I’m happy to see him doing well, I like the guy.

The Hawks Coming in: Everybody talks about the “Big Three” in the east, but the Hawks may well be team number four. And they are good.

They are off to a hot start in part because of very efficient play from Josh Smith, who has a True Shooting percentage of 72.3% (for those unfamiliar, True Shooting percentage is basically a points per shot attempt stat that counts both free throws and three pointers a number, the league average so far this season is 52.8%.) He is shooting that well because he is attacking the rim — 7 of this 10 shot attempts per game come at the rim. (Stats from Hoopdata)

I watched a chuck of their season opening win and this is a good defensive team — they are long, quick, like to jump passing lanes and work hard to create turnovers then get out and run. On offense, they run pretty standard NBA sets, but use them to highlight their players’ athleticism. It is the athleticism rather than the system they use to create shots. Also, the Hawks have been good on the boards, particularly the defensive glass.

Jamal Crawford comes off the bench for them and looks like a good fit with this group, and he can still light up the scoreboard. Also, our old friend and solid pro Mo Evans is solid off the bench for them.

Blogs and Links: Hoopinion is the best of the Hawks blogs, and is smart about the NBA in general.

Also, the final NBA previews: The Western Conference

Golden State Warriors: Golden State of Mind 
Los Angeles ClippersClips Nation

Sacramento Kings: Sactown Royalty | Basketball Fiend | Cowbell Kingdom 
Bonus Links: See full schedule here |

Keys to game: At halftime, can we just have a Shannon Brown vs. Josh Smith dunk-off?

This is one of those games where the Lakers perimeter defense will be key — Kobe will be on Joe Johnson, Ron Artest on Josh Smith (it is certainly possible they switch that up for stretches). In the crunch against Indiana it was all Johnson, he was the creator of the offense and often the shooter, take him out of rhythm and the Hawks may flounder.

However, just as key a matchup will be Derek Fisher on Mike Bibby. The non-USC Bibby has been a Laker killer his entire career and now here he plays into the Lakers weakness. Also, he hangs at the three point line and as Smith or Johnson penetrate he becomes a kick-out option, particularly late in the clock. However, Bibby plays poor defense and Fisher (and Brown and Farmar) should be able to score on him. This needs to be a good PG night for the Lakers.

The Hawks attack the rim with passion, the Lakers need to clog the lane and need to take away some of the easy baskets. That means Bynum (and DJ) making good rotations. Also, the Hawks will get some calls, the Lakers need to deal with that emotionally. Also, Bynum and the Lakers as a whole need to use their length to their advantage on the glass.

The Lakers need to take care of the ball, the Hawks love to go for the steal. They are long and athletic and their defense is based on getting steals. On the other hand, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams will turn the ball over, trying to trap or pressure them would be a good thing.

The biggest advantage the Lakers have is length and height inside (we will miss Gasol this game for that reason). They may do it anyway, the Lakers should go to Bynum early, and see if he can get Horford in foul trouble. That said, the Hawks will bring help and go for the steal — Bynum needs not to continue to be a black hole inside, he needs to pass out when pressured.

After a bad last game, I am curious to see how the Lakers come out tonight.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start of Fox Sports. For those of you outside LA, remember this is free League Pass trial week.

Also, I will be at the game tonight, so look for updates here as well as on twitter from Staples.