Even with the buoy of LeBron James and Anthony Davis keeping them afloat, there surely exists a limit of how poorly the Lakers can play in various areas of a game and still win. Those limits were tested against the Hawks on Sunday, but, alas, the Lakers still pulled out the victory, beating Atlanta 101-96 to win their 7th straight game overall and their 14th straight on the road.
You see, when LeBron scores 32 points, grabs 13 rebounds, and dishes 7 assists to go along with 3 blocks and a steal while Anthony Davis scores 27 points, grabs 13 rebounds, and hands out 3 assists while tallying 2 blocks and a steal, the Lakers are going to win a fair amount of games. It certainly mattered — a great deal, actually — that the Lakers, as a team, only hit 5 of their 31 shots from behind the arc and committed 22 turnovers. Those stats, a long with what the Hawks did to help put the Lakers in position to achieve those wretched numbers, kept the game close.
It’s just, when it was time to win the game, LeBron and AD did what they do. They won the game.
There’s more to it than this, of course. If you listened to Frank Vogel talk after the game, you could tell he was not so enthused about his team’s performance. Vogel has consistently preached that the Lakers shouldn’t have to lose a game to learn something and I’m guessing it was this exact type of game he means when saying that. The Lakers were sloppy with the ball, missed a lot of open jumpers, and generally played poorly. They can be better and probably should have been all things considered.
That “all things considered” point, though, matters too. You see, the Hawks actually did play pretty well. They pressured the ball all night and played with a physicality and determination that was noticeable watching on TV. They bodied up in the post, gave hard fouls when they needed to, and really used their hands well to pester ball handlers all over the floor. This surely impacted the Lakers comfort level, even on possessions when the action was cleaner and not as bogged down.
So, like most things in life when something goes wrong, the context of things requires a certain amount of self reflection and a certain amount of acknowledgement of the outside variables that impacted things negatively. I wouldn’t quite say the Lakers were lucky to win, but they easily could have lost this game. Blame them for some of that, blame the Hawks for some of it. The Lakers didn’t lose, though, and for that I’m happy. Winning is much more fun.
And now, some notes…
- As I wrote in my game preview, I was very interested in how aggressively the Lakers would defend Trae Young and I’d say it was hit and miss. Trae had 30 points, but only hit 9 of his 22 shots, including 3 of his 11 three pointers. The Lakers could have been better at blitzing Trae, but they did it often enough to keep him somewhat off balance and missing enough shots for it to make a difference. Trae did, however, do a good job of keeping the Lakers honest by shooting whenever they didn’t bring up the 2nd defender quickly enough. The Hawks also did a good job of spreading the Lakers out defensively to give their offense a chance to get into the gaps and/or make the Lakers closeouts more difficult.
- Not a lot of Lakers played that well this game, but I thought Dwight was pretty good overall. He only scored 2 points (more on that in a second), but he had 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal. He was 2nd on the team with a +8 in the boxscore, which doesn’t always mean a lot, but I thought was indicative of how he helped the team when he was on the floor. Speaking of those two points…
- Again, the dunk will get all the shine, but the entire play started by Dwight contesting a shot, rebounding, and then running the floor hard. Those other things matter, too.
- I thought the Lakers missed Kyle Kuzma this game. I know he’s not scoring as well as in previous seasons (mostly because his minutes are down, but I digress), but he’s the one non-LeBron/AD Laker who can score at all 3 levels effectively and get hot either by creating his own shot or finish via the plays his teammates make for him. The Lakers needed some punch this game and no one available was able to provide it. I don’t know if Kuz would have, but I think he would have helped.
That’s it for this one. Be back soon with more.