The longest road trip of the Lakers season is about to come to a close in Atlanta vs. the Hawks on Monday night. So far, the Lakers have gone 4-2, highlighted by wins in Milwaukee and Boston. Their two losses — to Philly on a buzzer beater and to Detroit via playing their worst game of the season — represent the bad parts of the trip. Closing out this trip with a win would be great, particularly after a good win over the Celtics on Saturday that came down to the buzzer.
Before we get into the Hawks specifically, it should be noted that the Lakers are very likely to show their wear this game. This is their 7th city in 12 days and that alone is taxing, and even in normal times I’d be weary about how the team would play this game. But, when you add in the more restricted rigors of NBA road life during the pandemic, there’s a mental burden this team is surely feeling by this point that should not be understated. This will be hard game to “get up” for as guys are surely looking forward to a flight home and seeing their families/sleeping in their own beds.
So, just be aware of the potential pitfalls that have nothing to do with their opponent tonight when you think about how this game could go.
As for the Hawks, they present some unique challenges for the Lakers. Trae Young is, to put it bluntly, a problem. His shooting range combined with his shiftiness off the dribble in space and his passing ability, make him a unique threat to a Lakers team that can have some issues when their defense is too spread out. Containing Young at the point of attack and cutting down the space he has to play in is important. You do not want Marc Gasol on an island vs. Trae. Just as you don’t want to play too low in P&R coverage and allow him to walk into open jumpers or get down hill where his floater game and his feel for throwing lob passes put the defense on their heels.
I hope, then, for the Lakers to be aggressive with Young in order to make him a passer early in possessions and then work to deny him the ball back. This is a team responsibility, of course, but Schröder will carry a heavy burden in executing this plan. He’ll need to get over the top of screens and then work hard off the ball to limit touches and keep Trae corralled. While the job defensively does not end with Young, slowing him can have an exponential impact on the Hawks as a team that even with Rondo now in the fold puts them behind the 8-ball.
Offensively, and this might sound too simplistic, the Lakers must find a way to hit outside shots. Over their last 5 games they’re only shooting 32.1% from behind the arc and that’s simply not good enough in general, but particularly against a Hawks team that has Clint Capela in the paint lurking to block and alter shots. KCP has been particularly poor lately, hitting only 3 of his last 16 attempts from deep (18%). Hopefully, a return to his home state can give him some juice, but a bounce back after his really poor showing in Boston that saw him on the bench to close out the game could also serve as some extra motivation.
Besides the outside shooting, the Lakers would also do well to find transition opportunities — though the Hawks will make that tough. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Hawks rank 4th in points allowed per transition possession in the entire NBA, but are 25th in frequency of transition possessions allowed. So, the Lakers will have chances on the break if they hunt them, and considering their talent they could generate some easy baskets. A guy I’d love to see get going in the open court is Anthony Davis, who has not been the same level of transition player he was last season. If he can get out and run a bit more, it will not only give him more chances for easy baskets, but it will open up shooting opportunities for his teammates that run to the 3-point line.
In the big picture, I’m really hoping the Lakers can muster the energy and focus to close out this road trip the right way. This isn’t a must win game by any means, but the Lakers are now 3rd in the West after the Clippers and Jazz have surged forward with long win streaks in recent weeks. The Lakers would do well to keep pace and getting a win in a game where they have real reasons to not be at their best is a good way to show some of the resiliency that was a hallmark of last year’s team.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.