I’d be lying if I was in any way confident the Lakers would beat the Hawks, but I did believe they could compete and make enough of a game of it that they could win it. Maybe I should have been more confident. The Lakers beat the Hawks 109-94 to sweep the season series and push back up to .500 at 9-9 on the season.
The way the game started, however, it did not look like this would be the result. As he did in the first match up in Atlanta, Dwight Howard was controlling the action, catching lobs for dunks, getting drop off passes for dunks, and controlling the backboards. Dennis Shroeder was beating Jose Calderon off the dribble and it all domino’d from there, the Lakers’ defense unable to help the helper in a way which would stop the onslaught. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers trailed by 11 and it looked like it might be another one of those nights.
In the 2nd quarter, though, it all changed. The Lakers’ all bench unit clamped down defensively all over the floor. Suddenly dribble penetration didn’t come as easily, lobs for Howard were contested by Tarik Black and Larry Nance with shots either disrupted or passes deflected entirely. The team then turned those defensive stops into offensive opportunities, with Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson feasting in transition and early offense. The result was the Lakers holding Atlanta to 16 points while dropping 35 of their own. That 11 point deficit turned into an 8 point lead and the team never looked back.
Don’t get me wrong, in the 2nd half the Hawks made a couple of minor pushes, but that intensity and attention to detail the bench unit started carry over to the rest of the team. In the 3rd quarter the starting group was not nearly as porous defensively and were able to manufacture points on the other end. Calderon attacked the paint more and got Thomas Robinson a couple of easy baskets. More dribble penetration in general led to collapsing defense and putback chances for Mozgov. And on it went into the 4th where the bench unit came back in and put the nail in the coffin.
I really cannot say enough about the effort this team is playing with or the coaching being exhibited by Luke Walton and his staff. The recent losses to the Warriors could have been dispiriting, but Walton pulled the right levers from the bench and the players responded with strong play in support of their coach. When you remember the Lakers were down two starters, a game like this is even more impressive. It wasn’t always pretty, but this group plays together and tries to pick each other up when things go wrong.
That’s not just the sign of a good team, but a team who wants to do well for each other as much as for themselves. Credit them for carrying that attitude, but credit the coaches for instilling it and maintaining the buy-in which drives it. I really am impressed with how this team was able to bounce back and beat a good Hawks team for the 2nd time this season.
Now, onto some notes:
- For the night the all-bench unit had an offensive rating of 124.2 and a defensive rating of 65.6 in their 22 minutes of floor time together. The Lakers were a +25 in this stretch, which, when you consider the team was down by 11 after the 1st quarter and won by 15, was essentially the difference in the game.
- I gave a lot of props to the all-bench unit, and they deserve it. But credit Nick Young too. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the 1st half (12 in the 2nd quarter) and was a key part of the push which turned the game around.
- Larry Nance was brilliant in this game. His 12 point, 10 rebound double-double gives you a sense of his effectiveness, but doesn’t paint the entire picture. He tagged cutters and rotated back to his man defensively, he hit the offensive glass hard (4 ORebs), and was simply relentless in how he chased every loose ball. He was also assertive in looking for his own offense, taking 10 shots and doing so without hesitation most of the night. I was also very impressed with how he defended Paul Millsap all night, helping to hold the all-star big man to 9 points on 4-11 shooting.
- I loved the way Tarik Black played against his old teammate Dwight Howard. Folks may not remember this, but it was Black who stepped into the starting lineup for Houston when Dwight was dealing with injuries early into his first year. Black was eventually waived by the Rockets so they could sign Josh Smith (who was cut by the Pistons after signing that huge FA contract). Anyway, Black battled Dwight for position in the paint and challenged every ball above the rim — be it a pass to Dwight or a contested rebound. Black played 28 minutes (his most all year) and was effective on both ends scoring 7 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and also blocking 2 shots to go along with his 2 steals.
- Thomas Robinson got the surprise start and while he was a bit uneven early in the game, he found his stride and was productive. 9 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes is not a bad night at all. He made quick decisions with the ball offensively and chased rebounds with his normal vigor. Post game Luke Walton commented that he was happy to give Robinson a chance to play with Randle out, citing Robinson’s great work ethic and the positive attitude he brings to practice daily.
- Neither Clarkson (7-17) nor Lou (5-13) shot the ball very well, but it mattered very little. Lou got to the line 9 times and led the team in scoring with 21 points. Clarkson, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything by grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing a team high 5 assists, and tallying 2 steals to go along with his 18 points. Just a nice effort from both guys even when their shots were dropping as much as they’d have liked.
- Brandon Ingram only shot 3-10 to score 7 points, but I remain impressed with him. He grabbed 8 rebounds and battled all over the floor even though he was not the recipient of a kind whistle for most of the night. I’ve said it a lot, but I love his poise and that he’s not easily put on tilt, even when things are not going his way.
new rr says
Walton continues to be impressive.
_Craig W says
This was a team ‘tagged’ to finish last in the Western Conference at the beginning of the year – remember?
What it is quickly becoming is a team that is very hard to plan for – from an opponent’s point of view. Sure, you don’t have to double anyone, but you can’t leave anyone open either. It is extremely hard to help on defense when you play the Lakers – the ball moves side-to-side and anyone left open will take the shot – except for Larry Nance Jr (he is improving) and Black & Moz (if they are on the perimeter). On offense, pretty much everyone is likely to be lurking in the passing lane and they are pretty much all athletic enough to make trouble for you. Moz in the middle is surprisingly agile and Black, Robinson, and Nance are energizer bunnies you learn to ‘hate’ very quickly.
With the team down two starters the weakest links are Calderon and Deng – and both are savvy veterans who can really hurt you. There is no rest when the bench plays more cohesively than the starters.
Unless you are Golden State (and they are beatable) or Cleveland (and they are beatable) or San Antonio (and they are beatable), you now really have to be concerned again when the Lakers appear on your schedule. Top that off with the fact that more Laker fans will be occupying seats in your building than any other team but your own, and the time to gloat over Laker fortunes is certainly over – sigh!!!! – once again.
Relate-abilty. Bill Walton and his staff has created a culture of relate-ability, which makes the players want to play for each other — and for the Coach. In fairness to Byron Scott, last season’s table was set once the team decided to make the season the Kobe Farewell Tour. This is post Kobe. Also, many of the players are noticeably improved from last year. All of that suggested a more coherent 2016-17 Lakers. But, the Baby Lakers is a ‘thing.” It’s exciting to watch, and fun. As a fan, I can relate to what Walton’s trying to build in a way I never could with Byron Scott.
new rr IMO Luke = C.O.Y.!
_Craig W says
netgarden No need to criticize Byron, last year’s team was looking at the past and this year’s team is looking toward the future. Much of the commentary revolves around that fact.
It is still true that Byron, as critical of him as we may be, prepared Russell, Randle and Clarkson to be part of this team with his tough love and the 82game schedule. They couldn’t really flower, but they learned the toughness needed to survive in the NBA – this could also be said of Nick Young. This is not to be construed as any kind of support for Byron’s coaching style.
Darius:so what is
basically happening is whenever the 1st unit can assist the 2nd
unit, lakers stand a good chance of winning as exemplified in last nite’s
game.When the 1st unit can
start holding their own, look out nba.
To me, it’s more than coaching and players playing.There’s some other higher being taking charge
here.At least last nite there was.Happy B-day Chick Hearn.
I feel like the starting unit will fare better if Deng gets replaced with Ingram. Deng is such a 0 right now, moves so slow and isn’t a real threat as a cutter or spot up shooter. Lakers are essentially playing 3 on 5 to start games since Mozgovs role is to just set pics and be a big body.
Russell is at his best off PnRs with a capable roll man (black/Nance) while weak side guys are either spotting up to space the floor or cutting around.
I’d like to see either Clarkson starting with Young moving up to SF or just start Ingram. Deng is so out of place right now.
The team off eff is so much better with DAR over Calderon too but I’d like to see DAR getting more run with the better players.
Travis Y says
_Craig W netgarden
This is also evident once Mark Jackson stepped down from the Warriors and Steve Kerr took over.
The hard nosed-approach tremendously helped the baby Warriors. Steve Kerr was able to open up the offense, trim down turnovers with basic fundamental dribbling and passing drills (Phil’s influence), and playing basketball with love, fun, and passion.
I’m glad the Lakers took a page out of the Warriors book for once and followed the same path.
Mid Wilshire says
Time for a few comparisons:
2016 — Lakers win their 9th game on November 27, 2016;
2015 — Lakers won their 9th game on January 12th, 2015 (courtesy of basketball-reference.com);
2016 — Lakers are 9-9 (.500) through their first 18 games;
2015 — Lakers were 3-15 (.167) through their first 18 games;
2016 — Lakers, through their first 40 games, TBD;
2015 — Lakers through their first 40 games were 9-31 (.225); Note: after the Lakers won their 9th game of the season in 2015-16 on January 12th, they lost 10 in a row and ended up 9-41 (.180) at the end of January of that season.
What a difference a year makes.
_ Robert _ says
Luke is back on track for COTY !
What’s amazing is how this is getting done. Guys that were not supposed to do much are contributing significantly.
Luke is the best asset the Lakers have.
A Horse With No Name says
As Phz06 notes below, Deng is the big zero right now. His inability to shoot or move with any consistent speed (usually looks slow, but sometimes rallies himself for a burst), lack luster ball handling and passing, makes him a negative on offense. He’s better on defense, usually in the right spot; but again, is looking slow. To put it bluntly, unless Deng gets his legs back, this is looking like a costly mistake by the FO. I won’t defend it, as I did the Mozgov signing (excellent acquisition) but I’m hoping he can regain some measure of bounce in his legs before calling for Jim’s head (that’s a joke fellas!).
So here’s an idea: there’s a good and talented stretch big in Houston who remains at an impasse with management on a new contract–Montiejunas. He is supposedly fully recovered from his back surgery, and can probably be signed to a very reasonable (two years guaranteed deal) contract that is neither crippling nor dooming (see Steve Nash). It might take our two second round picks (nobody wants Deng) that we acquired in the Calderon deal to get it done. Anyway, if he can regain his form, he would be a great fit for this offense. He could start with Randle, play outside on offense and inside on defense. (Randle is more than capable of guarding wings as the defacto three.)
I haven’t proposed any trade speculation involving players from either team (Montiejunas is unsigned), so please allow this post, Darius.
_ Robert _ says
Horse: Did you not defend both acquisitions when they were made? : )
In any case – Mosgov has surprised, but if I had a choice of having both moves being made or neither – I would take neither, which is what I said the day after the signings.
A Horse With No Name says
_ Robert _ I said it the lakers would have to over pay in free agency to get talent because of their bottom feeder status. But that should not be construed as an endorsement of the Deng signing. You are right on Deng it appears, but very wrong on Mozgov. He’s already proving his mettle as a starting center for the lakers. Guys that big who are athletic and capable are few and far between. You need at least one on your roster to compete.
A Horse With No Name Picking up on something that Mid-Wilshire suggested, our second unit is our edge against most teams. I don’t know if it was the FO’s and Luke’s plan, but through a combination of good lottery luck, good drafting, and bad (or good depending on how you looking at it) luck in striking out on top name UFAs, we ended up with a roster that has promising young guys and a serviceable vets at every position.
Some teams are top heavy in terms having much of their cap space concentrated in a few superstars but the talent drop offs quickly after that. While the starting unit may fall short against some (many) teams on talent and/or experience our second unit exceeds many (most) teams on talent and/or experience. Maybe Luke is exploiting that by forcing other teams to play their starters longer and/or change their rotations.
So although Deng isn’t playing well right now, I’m not sure now much better the starting unit (at full strength) would be with Ingram in for Deng. Deng isn’t the focus of the offense so would Ingram be taking touches away from DLo, Randle or Young? On the second unit Ingram can get more touches and probably is better than most of the people he will face.
_ Robert _ says
Horse: My question is this: If you could stay where we are now (having both for 4 years) or you could get rid of both – what would u do?
A Horse With No Name says
_ Robert _ Why ask that question? They didn’t sign a joint contract. Hypothetical questions to set up straw man arguments to support a long, desperate, silly and ultimately futile, crusade to get rid of Jim Buss is so last year. It’s not happening brah.
A Horse With No Name Deng has been disappointing. I have thought though there could be some sort of problem in Walton’s system at SF. Ingram’s shooting number haven’t much to write home about either though he has been otherwise great. It looks like they just don’t get any give me baskets.
bluehill A Horse With No Name
He’s not the focus but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. The point of a unit is to have 5 talented players with as much versatility as possible. He’s the weak link right now.
The ball moves and the team points, assists, minutes are spread out. It’s not like Ingram will get “less” touches in the starting unit. He’s currently playing with Clarkson and Lou anyway, both have a tendency to dominate the ball (which hasn’t been an issue yet since they are playing well).
Mid Wilshire says
I may be an outlier but I’m not about to give up on Luol Deng just yet. I remember last year when we were all rather down on Brandon Bass at this point of the season and he ended up being one of the most solid players on the court in the last half of the year. (I was one of those who was guilty of demanding that he be shipped out of town after 15 games. I was very wrong.) All that I can say is — it’s a long season. The more seasoned pros, unless they are truly over the hill — and at 31 years of age I do not consider Deng to be in that category — usually figure things out over time.
But having said that, it might be helpful to look at a few statistics, especially his usage rate compared to the other players on the team (usage rate = the % of a team’s possessions in which an individual player makes a FG attempt, a FT attempt, or a turnover):
Lou Williams: 28.6% usage rate (highest on the team and 17th highest in the NBA)
D’Angelo Russell: 28.4% (19th in the NBA)
Jordan Clarkson: 25% (46th)
Julius Randle: 22.2% (69th)
Nick Young: 19.4% (102)
Brandon Ingram: 16.4% (144)
Timofey Mozgov: 15.7% (150)
Luol Deng: 15.2% (160)
Larry Nance, Jr.: 12.7% (188)
Tarik Black: Not listed
So, as one can see, Deng’s usage rate (my source is http://www.foxsports.com/nba/stats) is 8th among the top 10 players on the team and the lowest among all the starters. (By comparison, Russell Westbrook’s usage rate, tops in the NBA, is an astronomical 40.7%, DeMar DeRozan’s is 35.1%, 3rd in the NBA, Jimmy Butler’s is 27.2%, 27th in the league, and Klay Thompson’s is 25.2%, 44th in the NBA.)
Deng’s usage rate of 15.2% is far less that DAR’s 28.4%, Julius Randle’s 22.2%, and Nick Young’s 19.4%. It’s even less than Mozgov’s 15.7%. In other words, Deng’s usage rate is the lowest among all the starters.
There could be several explanations for this: 1) Deng is simply not creating his own shot, 2) the offense is not designed to get the ball into the SF’s hands, 3) the starters have still not figured out how to balance things out, or 4) Deng is re-adjusting his role to concentrate on Defense, Rebounding, and leadership, all of which are real strengths and of vital importance to the 1st unit.
I would suggest that we give Luol Deng (and the Lakers’ starting unit as a whole) more time to figure things out and achieve more of a balance over the course of the season.
Please don’t forget the example of Brandon Bass. History could be repeating itself.
new rr says
problem with this is that Deng’s USG last year was not massively
different–17.4. Another is that as mattal, myself and others pointed out,
Deng’s numbers last year were better as a 4 than as a 3. Given that the Lakers had
already used a lottery pick and late first-rounder on two mobile power
forwards, dropping 72M on a guy with Deng’s mileage, skillset and age was a
questionable allocation of resources and would be even if were playing
well. Finally, comparing Deng to Bass makes little sense. Bass was signed
as depth on a short, cheap deal on a team going nowhere and is a very different
type of player.
As to Deng’s current
performance, his shooting numbers have cratered and he looks dead-legged. He will probably regress to the mean and get a
bit better, but that won’t make it a good signing.
are the ideas of culture, mentoring, roster stabilization, and that Deng and
Mozgov starting allows Walton to utilize the bench the way he does, and thus leverage
that advantage for the Lakers. All that may be so, but at the same time, the
deal is for four years guaranteed and Deng is not making specific, positive on-floor
contributions right now.
playing pretty well, and is a nice fit, but he only plays 22 minutes a game,
and the issue was never that Mozgov is a bad player—he’s not. The issues are
the length and amount of the deal, the team’s building arc, and how old Mozgov
Interesting how most thought Mozgov was the worst signing, and gave a nod to Deng, and now it’s the opposite.
Let’s watch as the season progresses how the cards will turn.
new rr Mid Wilshire Deng was likely brought in to teach Ingram how to play the position and save him from some of the tougher guards at the 3 during the season + to me he is more of the igoudala on the team and will likely move to a bench spot in a year
new rr says
Shaunis007 new rr Mid Wilshire
Walton may see it that way, of course, but IMO if the Lakers were contending, or if the deal were shorter and cheaper, that argument would work better. 72M is a lot to pay for mentor/bench player/culture guy, especially since they are already paying Metta, who plays the same positions Deng does, to be a mentor/bench/clubhouse guy.
Beyond that, Deng is playing very poorly by most metrics and by the eye test.
Mid Wilshire says
new rr Shaunis007 Mid Wilshire Deng is playing poorly…so far. But it’s still early in the season. Let’s give him a chance to turn it around.
_Craig W says
new rr Mid Wilshire On Moz…the Warriors really needed a big, mobile center for a number of years. Moz helps the Lakers in many ways; not all of them find their way into statistics – both on and off the floor. His 4th year may be an issue, but by then his salary won’t seem so much, in context, and we might just have traded him off to another young and developing club in his 3rd year.