Two of the hotter teams in the league will face off today when the Lakers play the Hawks at STAPLES. Only the Bucks have a winning streak (5) as long as the Lakers (4) or the Hawks (7) in the NBA right now, so I expect a good game — particularly as both teams continue to try to establish the habits to propel them into the playoffs.
The Hawks, currently 5th in the East, are surging after bringing on Nate McMillan to replace Lloyd Pierce who was let go after the team saw too many late game defeats and not enough progress after the front office spent heavily in free agency to push the team into the postseason. McMillan has stepped right and in turned around the ship, manning the wheel in every game of the current streak.
Now, if we’re looking with a more critical eye, the Hawks current streak isn’t exactly filled with juggernauts. They beat the Heat to begin the streak1Though, this was the 2nd game in their back to back set; and we know it’s harder to win both of those games., but the rest of the wins came against the Magic, Raptors, Kings, Cavs, Rockets, and Thunder. Again, not a murderer’s row there, particularly when the Raptors were without both Siakam and Van Vleet due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
Today’s game, then, offers a step up in quality for the Hawks and will serve as a measuring stick game that can tell them how far they’ve truly come. For the Lakers, the Hawks are a very good offensive team that will test their point of attack defense with Trae Young and their P&R rotations with Clint Capela and John Collins strong roll men who are both lob threats. Over the last 10 games, the Hawks are 4th in the NBA in Offensive Rating and for the season they’re 10th overall. Their credentials on that end of the floor are legit.
Not to be overly simplistic, then, but winning this game means slowing down the Hawks offense. That starts with Young, but now that Bogdan Bogdanovic is back in the lineup there’s another strong ball handler and P&R player that they can always have on the floor. With their strong roll game and shooters spacing, this will not be easy.
I do expect the Lakers to be assertive at the point of attack, maybe even trapping or sending two defenders at Young and or Bogdanovic in order to get the ball out of their hands and turn some of the other guys into playmakers — especially against a short clock. This will likely involve Trez, Keef, and Bron being strong helpers up at the level of the ball and the team will need strong second and third rotations from their wings behind the action to ensure they’re not giving up open 3’s or straight line drives to the rim.
Offensively, the Lakers are well positioned to do damage vs. this version of the Hawks. Yes, Capela is a strong rim protector and he will be a deterrent on the Lakers many forays to the paint. That said, with both DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish out, their best options to defend LeBron are not available. This means one of Tony Snell, Kevin Huerter, or John Collins will be tasked with defending him and none of that trio is exactly known for their defensive ability. If Bron can come out assertive and looking to score, he will effectively draw the type of help that allows the rest of the guys to get it going.
This could also be a game where both Schröder and KCP can get it going. Dennis, of course, doesn’t necessarily need a favorable matchup to find his offense. But, KCP’s shot volume has been down lately and that’s really impacted his boxscore stats. One of these players will be defended by Young, however, and if I had to guess I’d bet it will be KCP. If he can shake loose for open 3’s or, because Young is a smaller guard, simply shoot over the top of him on closeouts he could have a night where he gets closer to 10 shots rather than the 4-6 he’s been getting lately.
As for Dennis, if Young is on him, go eat. But, I’ve a feeling he’ll see plenty of Huerter and if that is the case he can leverage his quickness to help overcome the size difference between them. If recent trends hold, we’ll see plenty of P&R with Dennis handling the ball and so Huerter will need to navigate a ton of screens set by a multitude of defenders and then adjust his coverages based on who exactly is coming up free Dennis and what those players particular strengths in the P&R are. If both the Lakers starting guards can get it going, it would go a long way towards the Lakers keeping up offensively today.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.