Is the third time the charm? It may be somewhat chuckle-inducing to note — or it would be if it wasn’t sad — the Lakers have only three wins on the season and in each subsequent game after getting the W, have lost both times. The first was a 4-point loss to the Knicks. The second was a 19-point drubbing at the hands of the Suns. Tonight, coming off a win against the Wizards, the Lakers face the Hawks and try to get their first set of consecutive wins of the year.
This, though, isn’t very likely. The Hawks are a good team like the Suns are a good team (we do not know what the Knicks are). As noted above, the Suns thrashed the Lakers. That game was on a back to back. Tonight’s contest is not, but it is the 5th game in 7 nights and the 5th in as many cities. In other words, while I expected the Lakers to be tired in their win over the Wizards, I may have simply been off by a night. The fatigue may very well strike this evening. In fact, after a nice win and a longer flight south, I think it will.
Any fatigue, though, will simply be compounded by the fact the Hawks are good at basketball. They have been up and down after a good start, but have recent wins over the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Celtics. Even though they lost DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors in free agency, they still have a dynamic lineup with great front court play in Al Horford/Paul Millsap, a fantastic point guard in Jeff Teague, and one of the best shooters alive in Kyle Korver.
These four alone will give the Lakers big issues. Teague’s ability to set the pace, turn the corner in the P&R, and create in isolation will be especially problematic. He will attack the Lakers guards at every opportunity, and is just as comfortable getting his own shot off as he is pinging the ball to an open teammate.
This ball movement is what will amplify the Lakers’ problems defensively. The Hawks are coached by Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple. The offense may start with Teague creating, but a pass to Millsap triggers a pass to Horford which triggers a pass back to Teague which triggers another drive…and you get the point. The pressure this type of ball and player movement creates breaks even the steadiest of defenses. Against the Lakers already fractured one? Trouble. Especially with tired legs. Especially with Korver moving around the arc like basketball version of American Sniper changing his perch every possession.
The counter to this is the Lakers making shots of their own. Against the Wizards, they did enough of this to grab a lead and play from ahead early on. Regardless of their ability to give it all back, putting opponents in a hole makes them expend energy and effort in climbing back. That can become an advantage later in the game. It may be too much to ask this happen to the Hawks — who, like the Lakers, last played on Wednesday — but we shall see.
As far as match ups, the one I’ll be watching most closely is Julius Randle against Paul Millsap. The latter should be a player the young Lakers’ forward looks long and hard at as a model for his game. When Millsap came into the league, he was a rugged inside player who rebounded, defended, and worked his way into a starting position he ultimately thrived in. Over time, he developed a consistent jump shot (now out to the 3 point line) and refined his passing skills to the point where he’s one of the most versatile PF’s in the league. Randle, then, will be challenged to guard him at all three levels of the floor. Millsap also will not budge in the paint and will offer quick feet and long arms defensively.
The other item to watch is how the Hawks match up on the perimeter defensively, specifically who Thabo Sefolosha defends and if it creates cross matches. If Thabo defends Clarkson (which I think is likely), that will leave Korver to defend Kobe and Teague to defend Russell. However, I also expect Clarkson to defend Teague and Russell to either guard Korver or Thabo. If that’s the case, transition defense and communication will be especially important as guys scramble to find their own man and match up appropriately. Believe me, you do not want to get lost looking for Korver or Teague as the ball changes ends quickly. That will not work out well.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.