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Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers take the court at Staples Center again, this time against the Atlanta Hawks.  Two nights ago, the Lakers had what will hopefully end up being one of their worst performances of the year, looking generally unmotivated as they were destroyed by the Mavericks. 94-80.  Ironically, it's the Lakers offense that has looked absolutely terrible through 2 games this year. 

On a side note, sorry for the short preview, but my immune system is currently performing about as well as the Bench Mob.  Here's a quick look at the teams coming in.

Atlanta Hawks (2-0, tied 1st Southeast Division, 113.1 OR, 101.8 DR, 97.3 pace)

The Hawks have had a successful start to their season, winning both of their first two games by double digits.  One of those victories came against a quality team in the Washington Wizards (the same Wizards who beat Dallas before the Mavericks demolished us.)  They've done it with an impressive team display.  No player is averaging more than 35 minutes a game, and they have 5 players averaging double figures, including Mo Evans off the bench.  They've played defense well for years, but with the addition of Jamal Crawford this season, they are hoping to rise up and compete with the East's big 3.  Who knows if they'll make it, but it's not a team to be taken lightly.

Los Angeles Lakers (1-1, 2nd Pacific Division, 94.8 OR, 98.5 DR, 94.4 pace)

If you just glanced over the numbers I put in the header for the teams, please take a second look.  Notice that OR?  Stands for Offensive Rating, it is the number of points the Lakers score per 100 possessions.  Last year, over the course of the season, the Lakers had an OR of 112.8, good for 3rd in the league.  They currently sit at 29th in the league.  The only team worse?  The Charlotte Bobcats, who the Celtics hung a 59 on last week.  Yes, friends, it is the Lakers offense that has betrayed them at the beginning of this season.  It's ironic, because most people would deem the Lakers start this season as lazy, or complacent, myself included.  But the place where that laziness has shown itself is not on defense, where it normally would.  The Lakers have played (statistically at least) decent, of not good, defense.  But their offense is killing them.  The lack of Pau Gasol is bad, but an offensive performance that poor is just inexcusable.

Some matchup analysis, after the jump.

The Matchups

The Hawks starting lineup is Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams.  It's a lineup that is a bit undersized, but incredibly athletic.  Horford is an absolute beast on the boards, and it will be important for Bynum to do the fundamentals and box out his man, instead of focusing too much on collecting the boards himself.  The Hawks on offense are almost entirely pick and roll, using Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby to handle the ball.  Since the Lakers have difficulty with the pick and roll, this is exactly the type of matchup the Lakers struggle with.  Off the bench, the Hawks employ Jamal Crawford, Evans, Joe Smith, Zaza Pachulia, and Josh Teague.  Other than Crawford, no super big threats there, although it is interesting to see that the Hawks have more size on their bench than they do in the starting lineup.

For the Lakers, Gasol is missing yet another game, so it will be up to the players on the court to simply get better at their offensive execution and performance.  The starting lineup will be Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Gasol and Bynum.  With the way the bench has been performing, it is imperative that the starters play well.  The Hawks play strong defense, counting on Josh Smith to protect the rim with a bunch of high flying dunks, and their length on the perimeter gives teams fits.  Off the bench for LA will be ... you tell me.  PJ's rotations have been interesting to say the least.  There have been a couple times that Vujacic has been the first guard off the bench, but he gets taken out because Farmar and Brown come in to play together.  Despite the fact that I recommended this possibility, I haven't liked how it has played out so far.

I won't lie to you and say there's a lot riding on this game.  It's still far too early to label any game a must win.  But a win tonight shows that the Lakers are the same team they were last year, capable of a real stinker every now and then, but rising to the occasion right after the fact.  Another loss, and another lazy performance, and there will be genuine concern that this team doesn't have what it takes to be the Defending Champion.

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