After talking about championships and dialing it back on Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, Kobe Bryant hit us with some cold reality in Atlanta tonight: this isn't going to be easy.
The Lakers fell to the Hawks tonight, 114-100, with a second half that was as listless as the first half was spirited. LA headed into halftime with a 7-point lead that quickly evaporated along with their defense. Atlanta put up 67 points after the break, with Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague leading the way. The Lakers were able to again keep their opponents below 50 points in the paint, a relative achievement for a squad that's no stranger to 50 to 60+ games down low. Still, the Hawks would end up shooting nearly 49% from the field and over 40% from the three-point line, the biggest difference in what was a peripherally even statistical game between the two teams.
For Los Angeles, for once there was little controversy from what the front court provided offensively. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill combined to go 15-17 from the field with 37 points and 19 rebounds. Hill specifically was unconscious tonight, making all of his 8 shots, going to the line 6 times and grabbing 4 offensive rebounds. Defensively, both he and Gasol played much better than they have in recent weeks, though there was still much to be desired in regards to their guarding of both Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
The criticism on LA's end has to go to Kobe Bryant, who may have played his worst game since his return over a week ago. The Mamba went 4 of 14 from the field, a shooting line that actually looks better on paper than it did on tape. Bryant spent the night wildly missing from the field, clanging shots in nearly every area besides the hoop itself. He again was a turnover machine with 5, though if not for a few fortunate bounces, it could have easily been 7 or 8. The Kobe of old could have bailed the team's third quarter offensive malaise, but unfortunately, he's just not that guy right now--he's a 35 year-old working his way back from a serious operation.
Overall, it wasn't a particularly egregious loss--after all, the Lakers played good ball for the first 24 minutes of the game. But the fact is that this is a flawed team that is seriously lacking a second-string playmaker and whose de facto starting point guard is still feeling his way back into the game. As emboldening as Saturday's win was in Charlotte, tonight's loss in Atlanta made it clear that this isn't going to be straight line climbing upwards for Kobe and the Lakers--it's going to zig and zag into peaks and valleys, with the squad adjusting from game to game.
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