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Lakers vs. Hawks Preview: Can L.A. slow down Trae Young?

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Trae Young is the motor for the Hawks, and if the Lakers can contain him as much as possible, they should be able to cruise to a win against Atlanta.

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Lakers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers will play their fifth game in eight days tonight, but tired legs won’t be an option against their latest opponent. Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks may not be a juggernaut in the NBA’s pace stats, but will still pose a potentially tougher test than one might think based on their 4-8 record given L.A.’s perpetual struggles defending quick, scoring guards and the continued absence of Avery Bradley, the Lakers’ most reliable option on such players this season.

Bradley is set to miss at minimum the next week, meaning that the duty of defending Young will likely fall to some combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who is coming off of one of his better performances of the season on Friday — and Alex Caruso. Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel started Caldwell-Pope last game in Bradley’s place, but admitted he may try different starters over the time period that Bradley is out. Rajon Rondo will also be an option in the team’s guard rotation, but extended stretches with him defending Young are probably not a great idea at this stage of his career.

That’s not even that much of a slight to Rondo, either, as Young has been on another level this season. The rebuilding Hawks’ record may not be great, and they may rank in the bottom six in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but Young has been a revelation, capable of getting as hot as any NBA player early on in this young season.

Silver Screen and Roll alumni Pete Zayas (aka @LakerFilmRoom, now of The Athletic) recently did an awesome job detailing how Young has used his incredible footwork to master the art of being small, scoring 26.6 points per game to go along with 8.8 assists while shooting 37.9% behind the arc. Making things more impressive is that Young has done so while everyone knows he’s the first (and probably second and third) option for the Hawks, with the team running 33.9% of their offense through Young when he’s on the floor (which ranks sixth in the entire NBA).

As alluded to earlier, Young is exactly the type of scoring guard that the Lakers always seem to struggle against, and their various defenders will have to do a better job staying in front of Young than they did against the Sacramento Kings’ guard trio of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Yogi Ferrell, who combined for 53 points on 40 shots against L.A. on Friday in a game that was much closer than it should have been.

The good news for the Lakers (maybe) is that Young is coming off of one of his worst games of the season last night against the LA Clippers. Young scored 20 points against the other team in Staples Center, but that is still his third-lowest scoring game of the season and he did so on 4-16 shooting. As a result, the Hawks lost by 49 points, although the bad news is that the blowout at least allowed Young to sit out almost the entire fourth quarter, meaning that it’s possible he conserved some energy for tonight, and may have the law of averages on his side.

Still, that just shows that if the Lakers can slow down Young on the second night of a weekend back-to-back in the youthful Hawks’ only trip to L.A. this year, this should be a pretty easy night for them, as Atlanta lacks many other huge threats if they don’t have the gravity of Young making things easier on his teammates. And honestly, even if the Lakers do let Young go off, they still have two legitimate superstars of their own in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and should be a able to win a shootout with a Hawks team that doesn’t have anyone of those guys’ caliber, as solid of a prospect and player as Young is.

Still, this is the type of game that shouldn’t require heroic efforts from the Lakers’ superstars, and it will be interesting to see if L.A.’s top-ranked defense can be mostly enough to take care of Atlanta, and give their stars an easy night in their penultimate home game before they hit the road again for a bit.

Notes and Updates

  • As mentioned above, Bradley is still out, but beyond him (barring a new injury to anyone we don’t know about yet) the Lakers should have everyone else in their normal rotation available once again tonight. Frank Vogel says they'll keep the same starters.
  • If the Lakers or Clippers don’t meet the Hawks in the NBA Finals, this will be the last game of Vince Carter’s league-record, 22-year career in Los Angeles (if he plays, as he’s missed the last few games with a personal matter). He may have never played for the Lakers or had many meaningful matchups with the team, but hopefully the crowd still shows some love to one of the more memorable and talented players of the last few decades.

The Lakers and Hawks will tip off at 6:30 p.m. PST, and the game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.