The Lakers cruised to victory against the Atlanta Hawks, 130-114, despite only having nine of their core players available. But with a combination of G-Leaguers, two-way players, and a 10-day contract addition, they were still able to absolutely dominate an Atlanta team that appears to have hit rock bottom and continued to dig.
The game was never close, and the Lakers never trailed, leading by as many as 26 points. With this victory, L.A. improves to 18-21 and has now won four games in a row, which is good for their longest winning streak of the season. They are a half-game back from the eleventh seed in the West and are still undefeated in 2023.
On his return from a non-covid illness, the Lakers didn’t need another 40-plus point performance from LeBron James to win. He still led the team in scoring and flirted with a triple-double, ending the night with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists. Kendrick Nunn — a player who was injured all of last year and has been utterly disappointing in this one — had his best game as a Laker, scoring 23 points off the bench. And Thomas Bryant continues to be a walking double-double; he contributed 19 points and 13 rebounds in the win, looking like a dominant big.
LAL head into halftime with a 70-49 lead, their biggest margin at the break this season.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 7, 2023
Lakers shot 56.9% to ATL's 32.7%, hitting 4 more triples, and winning the fastbreak point battle 22-3.
The first half could not have gone any better for the purple and gold. As cliche as it sounds, it was a true team effort. Five players in double digits and three players (Nunn, Westbrook and Dennis Schröder) scored more than James. The defense locked down not just Trae Young — who went 3-10 from the field over the first two quarters — but the entire Hawks offense, which only managed to shoot 32.7 % from the field in the half. The 70-point first half was just one point shy of the Laker first-half record for the season.
With a 21-point lead heading into the third, only a colossal collapse could turn the win into a loss. Trae applied pressure, scoring 17 in the frame and chipping away at the deficit bit by bit, but a couple of timely threes from James and Patrick Beverley (with Bryant cleaning up the glass) kept Atlanta at bay for most of the quarter. In the closing seconds of the third, it appeared the Hawks may cut Los Angeles’ advantage to single digits, but back-to-back threes from Nunn and rookie Max Christie kept the lead in double digits heading into the fourth.
In the final quarter, the Akron Hammer attacked the paint with voracity slamming dunks home and electrifying the crowd. Atlanta got some help from their core of John Collins, Dejounte Murray and Bogdan Bogdanovic, but it was too little too late for the Hawks, as even a fake comeback was nowhere to be found in the fourth.
Before the game, Darvin Ham said, “The only mistake we can make is to not compete.” They’ve done more than compete in 2023; they’ve dominated in stretches, won close games and are playing their best basketball of the season. With key players already out and a seemingly ever-growing injury report, this form seems unsustainable, but it's impressive nonetheless. It will be interesting to see how many of tonight’s players will be able to suit up tomorrow against the Sacramento Kings. Laker Nation will be hoping no beams will be lit in NorCal tomorrow.
But as Ham has continuously reiterated, regardless of who’s out there, the Lakers just need to compete. If they do, they may just have a chance.