The 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers are officially undefeated with Kobe Bryant in attendance. Bryant’s career record against the Atlanta Hawks was 18-11 heading into Sunday night, and I think it’s fair to give him a 19th victory after the offensive performance the Lakers put on for him in their 122-101 win on Sunday night.
The game was barely ever in doubt, as Los Angeles started the game on a 21-4 run behind 10 first-quarter points from Kobe-Tavious Caldwell-Pope, his second straight game with a huge scoring quarter that mostly buoyed an otherwise unproductive night for the guard offensively (he finished with 13 points). Caldwell-Pope was also huge defensively in that quarter, hounding Trae Young (who ultimately finished with 33 points) into missed shots and turnovers that allowed the Lakers to get out on the break and seize momentum to start the evening.
The Lakers sort of let the Hawks back into the game when their bench unit failed to find a rhythm in their first stint, only outscoring Atlanta 36-24 in the first quarter. The Hawks then sort of hung around for the rest of the half, just a run or two from being back into the game, but ultimately trailed by 18 after two quarters.
That was all they’d stick around for. A flurry of second-half threes from LeBron James (who finished with 33 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds and six threes on the night) and an improved performance from the bench — which finished with three players in double figures — allowed L.A. to survive a mostly mediocre night from Anthony Davis on the offensive end.
And as one can tell by that first quarter run to start the game, the Lakers were locked in defensively as well. In addition to their relentless pressure of Young, the Lakers also blocked 14 shots on the evening, their most since 2002. They’ve had the No. 1 defense all year, and while not all of their bench units have shown the same defensive punch as their starting group, they are showing little signs of a plan to slip out of the top spot.
This win moves the Lakers to 11-2 on the season, and the team will now have a day to rest before they come back to Staples Center on Tuesday to host the Oklahoma City Thunder. After letting things get closer with the Sacramento Kings than they should have in their last game, the Lakers locking down an inferior opponent mostly from tip to buzzer should offer more reason for optimism about this team’s focus level. And after a win that left fans chanting “Kobe” as the former star left the court, it would be hard to fault the Lakers for channeling their inner Bryant and saying “you’re welcome.”