Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Darius Soriano —  February 22, 2011

Records: Lakers 38-19 (3rd in West), Hawks 34-21 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.7 (2nd in NBA), Hawks 107.2 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (10th in NBA), Hawks 105.8 (13th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hawks: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Hawks: none

The Lakers Coming in: We all know that the Lakers were not playing very good ball right before the All-Star break. They’ve lost three games in a row, including a defeat to the Cavs that must be the low point of the season. However, Sunday’s big game showed me (and I think the rest of the league too) that Kobe and Gasol aren’t just going to allow this team to fall off as the push for the post-season begins. Can that energy that Kobe brought to his MVP performance be carried over to these last 25 games? Will the return of Barnes (who says that he needs a handful of practices to really get back) help give the team that extra wing they’ve been missing? Will the Lakers bigs be able to keep up their strong play (or even improve on what they’ve shown) down the stretch? These are all legitimate questions and one’s that I’d lean towards yes on, but we’ll just have to see. I think it’s fair to say, though, that All-Star weekend has served as a reminder that the Lakers have two of the better players in the game on their roster and that when they’re on their games defeating the team they play for will be difficult. Mind you, the rest of the Lakers will have to follow their lead but I do think the Lakers’ best two players will be ready to forge that path for their mates.

The Hawks Coming in: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That’s pretty much how I’ve viewed the Hawks for several years now. They’ve done a very good job drafting and getting capable players to form a perennial playoff team but never been able to break through. And this year is no different. They currently sit in the 5th seed in the East and the four teams ahead of them are clearly better teams. And with Horford still relegated to playing Center (when he’s clearly a PF) and Bibby being relied upon as a vital contributor, I don’t know if that’s going to change. Their problem though, is that they don’t have the assets to acquire help and because they paid Joe Johnson what they did while simultaneously committing healthy dollars to Horford and Smith, they also don’t have the cap flexibility to add an impact free agent in the upcoming seasons.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Hawks have lost 3 of 4 games with their lone win coming against the Pistons. They’ve not been playing their best ball and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Horford still hasn’t come all the way back from a back injury that occurred when taking a hard foul from Blake Griffin earlier this month (an injury that had him play sparingly in the ASG) and the fact that new Coach Larry Drew is still trying to find the right combination of players to go to each night. ¬†One player that is playing very good ball though, is Josh Smith. His February numbers have been outstanding as he’s been averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds on nearly 54% shooting. But even with that production the Hawks are only 4-3 this month. Again, this team just can’t seem to get over the hump.

Hawks Blogs: Brett LaGree does a great job providing news and analysis over at Hoopinion. Also check out Peach Tree Hoops for Hawks info.

Keys to game: If the Lakers are to get back on track tonight and start their post All-Star push, they’ll need to refocus on both sides of the ball. The Hawks offer up a solid team that matches up well in several areas, but if the Lakers play smart and disciplined they’ll be able to come away with a win.

As we say pretty much every game, going inside early and often is a key on offense. Even if the Hawks go to a big line up (sliding Horford and Smith down to PF and SF respectively) and start Jason Collins or Pachulia, the Lakers must work inside out and try to get the bigs going. Gasol is coming off a solid if unspectacular ASG and getting him some touches against Horford or Smith should be a priority. Against either defender Pau should be able to get quality looks as Smith lacks the size and Horford may still be a bit banged up. If it is in fact Horford that gets the call to defend Gasol, I’d love to see Pau get some isolations at the elbow and short wing where he can test Horford’s foot speed off the dribble and shoot his mid-range jumper that has been a major weapon all season.

On the wing, Joe Johnson offers a solid defender against Kobe but one that #24 should still be able to create quality looks against. By getting Kobe moving off the ball and working in the post, I think the Lakers should be able to exploit Joe on D while also wearing him down some so his offense isn’t as effective when the sides change.

Speaking of defense, the Hawks have tried to go away from their isolation heavy sets of prior seasons but haven’t fully been able to break the habits that have set in. Johnson still works best from the wing where he can use the threat of his jumper to drive into the teeth of the D and put up his little floater. He’s also a post threat and will shoot the J when open so Artest (who will likely draw the assignment) will have his hands full chasing Joe off baseline screens and then playing on an island after the catch is made. I’d love to see Ron force Joe baseline as often as possible and make him shoot step back jumpers or drive all the way to the rim where Bynum and Gasol can offer assistance.

Obviously this means that the Lakers help schemes will be tested tonight and not just on isolations from Joe and Crawford. The Hawks also run a lot of pick and pop with Horford with Josh Smith slashing off the ball. The Lakers help schemes will need to compensate and account for Horford moving into open space at the top of the key as he’s one of the more unheralded jumpshooting bigs from that spot. A lack of rotation to him will result in two points more often than not. As for Smith, his movement off the ball is an issue that needs to be accounted for as he’s very good finding creases in the D and going after the ball on the offensive glass. If the Hawks go big to start the game, slowing him down will fall on Artest (or Kobe) so boxing out and tempting him to shoot his jumper are the biggest priorities there.

The other key tonight will be the battle of the benches. Jamal Crawford is a yearly candidate for 6th man of the year and can be an explosive scorer behind the arc and shooting his mid-range jumper when he gets it going. Jeff Teague is a great change of pace guard for the Hawks as well, often pushing the ball and looking to get buckets in the open court against defenses that aren’t used to his quickness after dealing with methodical guards like Johnson and Bibby. The Lakers bench will need to mark these two players and understand that they’re in the game to get up shots and put points on the board. That means ball pressure and transition defense will take a greater importance whenever these two players enter the game.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time out West on Fox Sports West and on NBA TV. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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32 responses to Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

  1. as those madcap, fun-loving guys at DDL love to claim: FIRST!

  2. 0-2 Darius? And an eleven point beat down? Say it aint so. :-)

  3. #2. I was awful. I haven’t played in so long. So frustrating. Couldn’t finish inside and was just out of the flow (a couple of misreads on O that I’d have done different). Several of my my assists got robbed too because they led to fouls instead of buckets. Worst part was that we were close with only a few minutes left but couldn’t string together good possessions. I’m mad just thinking about it right now. Ha.

  4. Hey you did real man work on the boards! You were channeling your inner Kobe in game 7 of the finals. :-)

  5. #4. Ha. Yeah, I had a very Reggie Evans-like boxscore with the rebounds and nothing else going well (save for those always fun TO’s).

  6. Hey guys, long time no post, huh? been back from deployment for a minute now too! Well, unfortunately the only thing I came by for was a favor…

    Anyone know any good links now that atdhe and ilemi are down?

  7. “Several of my my assists got robbed too because they led to fouls instead of buckets.”

    Darius, I’m shocked and dismayed. Tallying assists? Worrying about your boxscore? That’s something I’d expect from the Ricky Davis of the blogosphere, not our captain. Channel your inner Derek Fisher. BE THE INTANGIBLES.

    Also, I have no idea what you guys are talking about, so if that’s some sort of weird new fantasy league thing, ignore me.

    I only came to share this while people are waiting for tipoff, I thought it was a really interesting glimpse into the NBA around the world:

  8. and are the same sites with non-US domain names. I wish they had more Veetle streams.

  9. #7. Secretly, I’m trying to raise my PER. Every stat counts, my man.

    Seriously though, I was in LA for all-star weekend and there was a friendly pick up game where the TrueHoop Network guys that were in town faced off against the guys from SB Nation that were in town. The THN lost and that’s a sore spot for me right now. Especially since I played so poorly. Sad part is that I didn’t get any post up chances (I’m good down low*, I trained with Hakeem over the summer a couple of years ago**) and was a turnover machine. Essentially, I was a mix of Rondo, Jordan Farmar, and Reggie Evans. I’m quite saddened by this as I used to be good. Alas, that seems to be case no longer.

    *I actually am a good post up guard
    **this is not true at all

  10. Good call JB, Thanks bro,

  11. 9 – When you say you were Reggie Evans, is this Reggie-Evans-The-Rebounder or Reggie-Evans-The-Cookie-Snatcher?

    This is interesting though. Who can seriously ball out of all the well-known bloggers?

  12. I doubt Abbott can play at all, because he flat out doesn’t appreciate Kobe (= no feel for the game).

  13. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers pull together for this stretch run. So far they look like they mean business…finally.

  14. Henry’s not bad at all. Good energy and hustle player. Good jumper. Royce Young (Daily Thunder) has a good jumper. DJ Foster (formerly of Clipperblog, now is a pretty good all around player that can play inside and out. Trey Kerby really does have a Brad Miller style game. Good jumper but good inside too. Skeets could play too. Very good lead guard – he reminded me of Nash or Dragic (pushed the ball, made good decisions).

  15. Seeing Luke in this lineup is kind of making me want Matt Barnes to come back sooner. I know what Luke brings to the table, but outside shooting and above-his-weight-class rebounding are not among those things. And those are things I want to see.

  16. Fisher/Brown/Bryant/Odom/Bynum? That’s a lineup I’ve never seen before.

    Almost as bad as Ghost, Mothership, Baneling.

    God I love SC2 in-jokes.

  17. Zephid – That’s a new lineup for me too. It’s the kind of 5 that I always wanted Sasha to get a shot at. Where he played SG with Kobe over at SF and the other starters (or LO) on the floor. He always got stuck with Farmar last year, and never really did enough to earn a run with the starters.

    I’m glad that Shannon’s made his case this season though. A well-deserved increase in minutes.

    Good first half. Solid passing and good to see Drew on the glass like a guy his size should be.

  18. FWIW, Shannon has been getting more burn with Kobe of late as Phil has gone away from Ron and Luke has been used sparingly. That means Kobe has to play some SF as there’s no one else (unless you count Ebanks and I don’t). The difference is that it’s normally Blake with that group and not Fisher and we’ve seen it most at the beginning of the 4th when Phil hasn’t sat Kobe like he normally does.

  19. Darius – I’ve noticed that as well. We’ve even seen a Fish, Blake, Kobe front at times. I realise that it’s driven by the Barnes injury, but it’s something I wanted to see Phil try with Sasha. It just felt like he was pushing for his own shot SO much without the higher quality guys to get him the good, open looks.

    But he seems to like Jersey, so all is well!

  20. Roflcopter, Kobe getting called for a flagrant after getting all ball.

  21. What the hell is SC2?

  22. The Kobe flagrant foul should be rescinded, it was not a good call

  23. Guess the Lakers decided tonight would be one of their blowout victories…

  24. Looks like the team came to play today. Artest and Bynum looked energetic. Even Fish looked mostly like an NBA player.

    I hope this is a harbinger of more consistent effort from here on out.

  25. Ebanks with the dunk!

  26. Wow, Atlanta is 1-15 on three-pointers.

  27. I’m the 28th post at 10p against a decent team & almost half of the previous posts are about amateur hoops (no offense…)? That Cavs lost has indeed decimated Lakers nation!

    Hello? Hello?

  28. lil’ pau – a few of us are still here enjoying the ride.

    Quick question – are the Hawks this bad?

  29. Yeah, the World Champion Los Angeles Lakers just dismantled the 5th best team from the East, hence I enjoyed tonight’s part of the ride for sure.

  30. #28. Maybe folks were serious when they said they wouldn’t watch until the playoffs. Ha. Or maybe the fans are hungover after the ASG like people were saying the Hawks were.

  31. Champs looked like the Champs tonight. Great energy from Bynum tonight.