There seems to be a pattern developing here.
Using their defense as the catalyst and crisp offensive execution to remove any doubt about the outcome, the Lakers defeated the Hawks 101-87 to earn their 8th straight win and continue their hot streak.
At this point, when trying to summarize the action from this game, I think it’d be easier to cut and paste portions from recaps from the past two weeks because the Lakers are bringing the same formula game after game and simply outclassing teams right now.
And it starts on defense. Simply put, the Lakers defense was just too good. Atlanta was only able to summon 87 points on 39.8% shooting and only really hung around on offense because they grabbed a healthy number of offensive rebounds (16) and kept their turnovers low (10). But it wasn’t their shooting percentages or the actual point totals that impressed me most when looking at the Lakers’ D. It was the type of shots that Atlanta ended up taking on the majority of their possessions. Take a look at their shot chart from this game and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The Hawks relied nearly entirely on shots from outside the paint and even when they did attempt shots inside they weren’t particularly successful. Once again Andrew Bynum patrolled the paint masterfully blocking 3 shots, altering several others, and outright deterring countless more just by standing tall in the lane. When you throw in his 12 defensive rebounds (16 total – his third straight game with at least 16) Bynum’s impact on that side of the ball can’t be overstated.
The Lakers perimeter defense was also strong. Though Kirk Hinrich, Josh Smith and Al Horford were able to knock down the open jumpers the Lakers ceded to them, Joe Johnson struggled with Ron Artest’s hounding D and Marvin Williams could do nothing with Kobe playing particularly spirited D. Those latter two combined to shoot only 5-19 from the floor and when you add Jamal Crawford’s 2-8 from the field, the Lakers held Atlanta’s top three wing threats to only 24 points on 27 shots and only 26% shooting.
Offensively, though, is where the Lakers really did their damage. While the Hawks were settling for outside jumpers the Lakers attacked the paint relentlessly with post ups for Pau Gasol and Bynum to take advantage of their size advantage over Smith and Horford. Twelve of the Lakers’ first eighteen points came on baskets by their two bigs and of the other six points, four came on assists from Gasol.
And when the Lakers weren’t blatantly going into the paint for relatively easy scores, they were methodically running their offense in order to produce good looks. As was the case against the Spurs, the Lakers’ spacing was pristine and their off ball movement sublime. Players were doing everything they could to keep defenders occupied off the ball and then helping each other get open at seemingly every turn. On multiple possessions Hawks defenders had their heads on swivels trying to keep up with where their man was going while still trying to track the Laker with the ball. On one 2nd half possession the Lakers ran a simple strong side set with the ball going into Gasol on the right block and several Lakers – all showing exquisite timing – cut and flashed into the lane at separate times looking to get easy baskets in the paint only to have Gasol wait patiently and then attack with a beautiful delayed post move that yielded a lefty hook from inside 6 feet. All the action happening off the ball literally looked like a cyclone in the paint with multiple Hawks looking confused on where their help responsibilities were and wether or not they should leave their own man to double on Gasol.
Even on the few possessions where the Lakers weren’t running their sets cleanly – which all seemed to be near the end of the game – the Lakers were still able to salvage points simply on the strength of Kobe’s shot making ability. One memorable play had the ball getting deflected on a cross court pass only to end up in Kobe’s hands with the shot clock running down and #24 simply raising up and shooting a contested three pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net. Those three points essentially iced the game for the Lakers, pushed Kobe’s total to 23 (he’d finish with 26 on 18 shots) and made it so his record breaking night – he passed Moses Malone for 6th on the all time scoring list earlier in the game when he scored his 13th point – would be a memorable one.
In the end, the Lakers are showing that they’re rounding into form at a time where it’s most needed. The opponents are getting more and more difficult, the push for playoff seeding is in full swing, and there’s precious time left in the regular season to actually improve. This is the team we’ve been looking for all season and suddenly, like a lightning bolt, they’re here. What’s even better is that their formula is the same each night and they’re staying true to their template: defend hard, use strong ball + player movement and inside play to control tempo on offense, rinse, repeat. Even though the bench is a bit more shaky than I’d like, the team as a whole is playing so well it’s not even an issue and doesn’t take away from what can only be described as dominating performances that show both great focus and physical ability. What more can I say, it’s just fun to be a Laker fan right now.
dave m says
It’s been a beastly, feastly delight. Pound, chew, digest, repeat.
Nice recap. Bummed I missed the game.
My question is, while I love the Lakers playing well, why are they peaking in march? Is it really a switch, or is it health, or is it that Ron Artest woke up from his 6 month slumber? Whatever it is, I enjoy it. Though I don’t want them to over peak in March (a la San Antonio last year) as the true juice shouldn’t be used quite yet….
Moments like this feel that much sweeter after the low ones (i.e., loss to Cleveland). Just a few weeks ago, your (and everyone else’s) disappointment in the team was at an all-time high, or close to it. Now, “it’s just fun to be a Laker fan right now.” That’s why you said it’s a journey, right?
P.S. To all the doubters (as in those who thought the Lakers were losing their status as title contenders and/or thought they NEEDED to make a major trade) in the past – jeez, you should’ve relaxed a bit. Some people need to have a little more faith in a 2 time defending champion. Sorry, had to get that out.
Igor Avidon says
This is still first half of March. Winning now is great, but don’t get overly optimistic. The playoffs will bring new challenges. I’ll get excited if we’re bidding farewell to Phil on a parade in June.
Mark Sigal says
What I am most excited about is the fact that we are seeing once again what I call the Anaconda Squeeze; namely, where there is a point in the game where the Lakers turn on the afterburners, completely squeeze the life out of the competition, and break their spirit.
Tonight, it was the first five or so minutes of second half where they turned an 8-9 point game into 16-20, and it was Game Over.
We saw this a lot through 2008-9 season, not so much last year and even less this year. Fingers crossed it continues.
chris h says
andrew is the secret weapon that PJ is just now bringing into play. zen master knew he shouldn’t tip his hand too soon, wait till the stretch drive of the season. now the opponents know what’s coming, but PJ will use these 17 games remaining to fine tune using ‘Drew to perfection.
i think he’s just going to focus mainly on the D end of the floor, and get his O when he grabs a board or on an alley-oop. if he continues to anchor the D like he’s done in this streak, we’ll be facing the C’s for the ring again, how sweet, to win #17 against the C’s, eh?
let’s just hope it keeps building into a 2001-esque playoff run
Yes yes we should all be praising Andrew… It’s hard to miss a giant 7 foot behemoth who makes 7 foot professional basketball players look like school children playing against coach in practice. In one play against the Spurs Bynum went up for a rebound and knocked a seven foot player to the floor like a rugrat… But Pau Gasol was okay and continued on. But I want to talk about Ron Artest. I know it’s boring… He doesn’t grab 16 rebounds or block 3 shots. He doesn’t score 26 points and pass Moses Malone for 6th on the all time scoring list. He isn’t a skinny 7 foot spaniard who has better ball skills than our starting PG. He isn’t a back up PF who reminds some of Magic Johnson. But I remember a time when the Lakers were soft. I remember a time when Kobe had to guard the other teams SG if he was good. I remember a time when Kobe had to waste all his energy getting outmuscled by bigger SFs up and down the court. Yes, Trevor Ariza was nice in transition and could get into the passing lanes, but a one on one defensive stopper he wasn’t. Heck… he isn’t even a decent rotation player anymore. And don’t bring up Walton and VladRad… I’m still trying to wake up from that nightmare. Instead we have a guy who can score 10 ppg and maybe grab 4 boards… But he changes everything for this team… He changes everything for Kobe. How would Kobe look today if he had Artest with him last 7 years instead of just the past season and a half? He might be still dunking over Yao Ming if Yao of course could still stand. So yes Bynum is the second best center in the NBA and a sight to see…. but here is to Ron Artest… raise a glass and toast the man who can shut down Kevin Durant “the best scorer in all the land” with just his left hand.
Any major concerns with the bench play in the 4th quarter? In San Antonio on Sunday and once again tonight, the bench allowed seemingly insurmountable lead to dwindle into single digits.
You haven’t even mentioned the fact that he signed for way below his market value. Almost makes up for the fact that we are paying Luke 5.2M a year.
Since we’re in praising mode right now, great write-up as always, Darius. As much as I love visiting here as a Laker fan I’ve been even more impressed with the quality of the write-ups and posts by all.
If we have to nitpick I do echo the concerns of peaking too early. We want to be in stride going into the playoffs. It’s petty but then again I won’t complain if we finish on a 25-0 run or break the 60-win plateau.
All the pieces are in place the strategies are just being fine-tuned, realistically the only thing that could derail the Lakers are injuries.
To the artist formerly known Crazy Pills…!
I love how he came out talking about crying with his therapist! He is like the grown man to the teeners trying to act tough in South Beach.
Bynum’s numbers since the All-Star break:
63.5 % from the field
80% from the line
Knock on wood, this will be the year we actually see him healthy and playing well in the playoffs.
Chicken egg question.
Yes the defense has been fantastic of late. But part and parcel of that transformation has been LA’s gradual improvement in slowing down, running the offense, and pounding the ball in deep. A case in point is the first quarter last night. LA jumped out to a seven-point lead, only to see it evaporate over a series of possessions, where Fisher, Kobe, or some other perimeter player jacked up a quick shot early in the clock, leading to a run-out for the other team.
Once LA stopped doing that, and refocused on slowing down the game, and working inside-out, the runouts stopped, the transition points for ATL dried up, and the LA lead bloomed.
(As an aside–one of my favorite stretches was in the third when Kobe had a couple baskets coming off screens to hit jumpers off of passes out of the post, rather than having to create his own shot–two bonuses in one possession–(1) inside out movement through the post; and (2) Kobe working off the ball–I hope the trend continues)
A number of weeks ago, Jerry West said this LA team is too old or too slow to play defense anymore. He was half right. LA is too old and too slow to play transition defense all night long. But he was half wrong too. If LA does what they have been doing since the break, particularly in the second-half of games (aside–how many consecutive games is this with the opponent scoring under 40 in the last two frames?), and grinds the game down into their strength, thus forcing teams to play half-court offense against LA’s size on defense–they will be as tough an out in the playoffs as anyone.
So, while hats off to Drew and Ron for stepping up their defensive games in the last few weeks, hats off to the team for finally running the offense through its strengths, and not exposing the transition D.
Wow and the Miami Heat lost another game. Now they have to win 18 out of their 19 games remaining to at least equal Cleveland’s record last year.
Craig W. says
Anyone want to comment on how badly Cleveland did in…
1) Surrounding Lebron with talent?
2) Coaching an effective offense?
The notion of peaking to early is fodder for the up and comers, not for a veteran team that knows what it takes to be sipping on bubbles at the end. As Darius had noted in previous write ups, when LA was struggling, the attention to detail and focus was missing in all aspects on the court. The little things were missing causing breakdowns on offense and defense. Which made for some very tough times to turn on the tv to watch a team that definitely knew better.
If LA was winning games like at the beginning of the year, shooting lights out from the field and three point land, then the arguement could be made of peaking to early. But LA has put defense first since the all star break and has began to force opponents to adjust to their style of play, allowing the team too control both ends of the floor. A great sight to see, will only get better as the playoffs get closer and the thought of a threepeat will become reality rather than an 82 game street fight through the league.
T. Rogers says
There are 17 games left in the season for the Lakers. That will be down to 15 games by the end this weekend with 67 games behind them. Now is the time to be peaking. The playoffs start next month. We are a lot closer to the end of the regular season than it may seem.
Plus, it just happens the schedule is giving us San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, and Orlando right now. Beating as many of those teams as we can is a must. These are tune up games. The push starts now. There is no point in waiting. Plus, LA is two games behind Dallas in the loss column. They really need to make a push for that number two seed.