Coming off an incredibly emotional night in Orlando, the Lakers were due for a letdown. But even as the stage was set, it didn't seem quite right.
The Atlanta Hawks were without three starters, including point guard Jeff Teague, center Zaza Pachulia and All-Star late scratch Josh Smith. In their places were Devin Harris, Anthony Tolliver and Johan Petro. They themselves were coming off a back-to-back thrashing at the hands of the streaking Heat and had lost six of their last seven games. Had you told me two weeks ago that the Lakers would lose this game, there's no way I could be surprised. But with the situations at hand? Yes, I'd be surprised.
Even more surprising was how hard the hobbled Hawks played without their starters. Johan Petro registered his first double-double in three years, outplaying Dwight Howard just 24 hours removed from a 39-point night. Noted Laker killers Kyle Korver and Devin Harris smoked the LA perimeter players for 32 points, the former headlining an Atlanta bench that went for over 40 points. Al Horford only finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but caused the Lakers headaches problems in the paint all night long.
As always, LA's success hinged on the ebbs and flows of Kobe Bryant. Whereas he'd brought them back against Toronto, New Orleans and Atlanta just 10 days ago, he almost did the very same in Phillips Arena tonight with an unreal third quarter, in which he scorched the Hawks with 20 points. From there, he'd manage just 10 more, but ending with a ghastly 11 for 33 shooting line. Just as it's surprisingly unsurprising how the Lakers lost this one, Kobe's performance both kept the team in the game, but probably cost them it as well, leading meandering fourth quarter possessions resulting in miss after miss. Perhaps even more disconcerting than his poor shooting or even the team's loss is Kobe's turned ankle on the final play of the game. He managed to walk back to the locker room, but with Bryant's legendary tolerance for pain, there's a chance it could be more serious than let on.
The Hawks did everything they could to give the game away tonight, themselves hitting just six field goals in the fourth quarter. All-Star Al Horford did little damage offensively and left the heavy lifting to Devin Harris. But on a night when Steve Nash misses two bunnies under the hoop, airballs a three and Dwight Howard is limited in foul trouble all game, it seems that a solid performance from a usual substitute is enough to beat the streaking Lake Show.
This should have been a good road win for the Lakers, but perhaps the heavy, high-pressure minutes from the starters as of late are beginning to take a toll on the team. LA went ice-cold in the fourth and just didn't seem to have the legs to make easy shots. With Earl Clark missing the second half with a sprained ankle, this could be a problem that might not get better.
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