All is well!
Last week, Mitch Kupchak openly wondered how the Lakers would respond to their three-game skid heading into the break. He had plenty of company. Apparently, though, if there was a message to get, the Lakers absorbed it, running out to a 15-point lead in the first quarter, and more or less putting it away by halftime.
For one night, at least, the Lakers looked a lot like the team they're supposed to be, on both sides of the ball. To say they've cured what's ailed them through the season would be a reach, but it's hard to argue about how they kicked off the post- All-Star stretch run. Here's how it broke down...
1. Defense, and Its Component Parts. Full disclosure: The Hawks' halfcourt offense was truly a thing of ugly. Little movement, no penetration of ball or man, no rhythm of which to speak. Those looking directly at it may very well have turned to stone. Still, give the Lakers a ton of credit. The big reason Atlanta scored 80 points and shot 36.6 percent was the way the home team D'd up. The Hawks didn't get much room to (Obvious Bird Metaphor Alert!) spread their wings. The Lakers were crisp in all areas of the defensive game. To wit:
Rotations. They've been a consistent problem for the team this year. Not Tuesday. Rare was the truly uncontested Atlanta jumper Tuesday night. The bigs were particularly active, jumping out to challenge baseline jumpers and get a hand in the face of would be penetrating players. The Lakers did a good job cutting off angles for penetration against the undersized Hawks, forcing them to make plays higher on the floor and into more isolation than I'm sure Larry Drew would have preferred.
Rebounding. Atlanta piled up misses, so it's no surprise the Lakers won the battle of the boards, 54 to 32. Where they really excelled was in limiting second chance points for the Hawks. In the first half, Atlanta missed 25 shots from the floor, but only grabbed two offensive boards (eight percent). The Hawks may be among the weaker ORB squads in the league, but still entered the game with an offensive rebound rate just under 24 percent. Which is a lot higher than eight. In the third, L.A. only allowed two more offensive boards, helping explain how they stretched out their halftime lead by another five points. One-and-done was a dominant theme.
Active Hands. Kobe Bryant forced a turnover from Mike Bibby on Atlanta's first trip of the game, one of two steals the Lakers in the first 2:30 of the game, turning both into points. Pau Gasol grabbed a loose ball courtesy of Josh Smith on perhaps the worst alley oop lob in history*, as the ball ricocheted off the backboard as if shot from a cannon, running the break like a seven foot point guard and dishing to Artest for the layup. Artest forced a steal with just over two minutes left in the quarter, scoring at the other end off a dish from Steve Blake. Four steals leading to eight points. Good stuff.
Paint Protection. The long arms of the Lakers, particularly Bynum, were in full effect Tuesday night. Bynum aggressively provided help off the ball, logging three blocks. Gasol added a pair, and even Joe Smith and Devin Ebanks joined the fun, notching fourth quarter swats of their own (Smith had two, actually, and lobbied hard for a third late in the fourth but earned a PF instead).
2. Perimeter Shooting. The Lakers played rock solid inside out ball Tuesday, but like most teams the Hawks allowed them to shoot shots fairly uncontested along the perimeter, particularly early. Shooting has been a consistent problem for the Lakers over the last month or so, and at the end of the Grammy trip particularly so (10-50 from three vs. Orlando, Charlotte, and Cleveland), but Tuesday they knocked 'em down. Only eight of the team's 28 first quarter points were in the paint, many of the rest coming off mid-to-long two point jumpers. Fish stuck three in the first 2:11 of the game. When the Lakers are this effective from outside, they become almost impossible to defend. No surprise, then, to see them shoot 66.7 percent in the first, and 54.5 for the half.
3. Free Throws. An attacking offense helped put the Lakers at the line 40 times. Of course, it doesn't mean much if they don't take advantage. In making 27 of 30 through three quarters (and 34-of-40 overall), fair to say the Lakers did.
4. Balance. Kobe didn't have to carry the scoring burden Tuesday night- with eight points at the half he was actually third among Lakers- but still played very well with 20 points and five assists, supplemented by a pair of steals. But the Lakers received major contributions up and down the lineup. Fisher was a factor early. Artest struggled with fouls, but hit four of seven shots and in the third worked his way into the post on consecutive possessions to earn points for the Lakers. Shannon Brown found his perimeter game, and also blew to the basket for a pair of second quarter dunks off high screen handoffs from Gasol. Odom's stat line was relatively modest in just under 21 minutes, but he hit a few big jumpers early to help fuel the offense.
Overall, the Lakers had 20 assists among their 32 field goals, along with the high number of free throws reflecting a team both moving well without the ball and sharing it willingly.
Lowlights: Not much goes here, given the score and quality of play. But here we go...
1. Turnovers. Even before fourth quarter garbage time, the Lakers were periodically loose with the ball. nine first half turnovers led to eight points for the Hawks, and it would have been more had they not been so awful/L.A.'s defense been so stifling.
They'd finish with 18.
2. Luke Walton. Not that it mattered, but it wasn't exactly the finest burn of the guy's career.
3. The Lady Sitting In Front of Us Trying Desperately to Become the Chili's Sizzlin' Fan of the Game. She failed, but not for lack of effort. When it came time to earn her way onto the Jumbotron, the lady went for it, thrusting her pair of oversized pointy-finger Hulk hands into the air with purpose. Unfortunately, she never had a chance, whether because of inattentive in-house camera people or the slightly off-putting visual of a woman with two left hands.
*Until later in the half, when Smith dethroned himself, throwing another lob off the backboard, this one worse than the first.