A lot of anxiety fell into Dwight Howard prior to the game in Orlando last night. His first visit in the city that he gives credit to for raising him as the player he is today since his rookie year in 2004. But it turned out that Howard managed his emotions real well and led the Lakers (34-31) to their 4th-straight win to reclaim the 8th seed in the west from Utah.
The Lakers are in Atlanta tonight to take on the Hawks (34-29) — a team that has only won once in 7 tries in the month of March and is trying desperately to avoid slipping out of the playoff picture at the 7th spot.
The loss of Lou Williams to a torn ACL and Joe Johnson to a trade with Brooklyn are now coming back to haunt the Hawks. While they still have plenty of talent in Jeff Teague, Al Hordford and Josh Smith, Atlanta is lacking that go-to scorer who can create for himself as well as the team consistently. But that's just one area of why the Hawks have been miserable the past 3 weeks. Still, they are still dangerous enough for the Lakers, especially if they come out with a mindset to make the purple and gold pay for beating them at Staples Center 2 Sundays ago.
Time together has given the Lakers that team chemistry they were lacking before the All-Star break. Since then, the offense is clicking. The defense is active. And the team has figured out ways to overcome their 1st half woes to win games together.
But it's important for the Lakers to take each game as an opportunity to improve as well as a chance to cement their place in the playoffs.
This is the last meeting with the Hawks in the regular season with the Lakers looking to sweep the season series for the 3rd consecutive years. The Lakers are 2-3 in their last 5 games at Philips Arena.
Matchup of the Game
Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford: If Zaza Pachulia does not play tonight, this is going to be the matchup to watch. Horford presents a tough matchup for Dwight with his ability to knock down that mid-range shot and activity on the glass. Horford had 24 points on 12-of-20 shooting versus Howard 2 weeks ago. So, Dwight needs to look to dominate the paint on both ends of the floor even more tonight than last time these teams met.
Keys to the Game
> Expect Better Effort From Hawks: Like most teams, Atlanta plays better at home. And if you take into account that they lost by only a single point against the Lakers at Staples Center, they'll probably come out looking to get some payback. The Lakers have to come out strong from the get-go tonight.
> Dwight Howard: Another reason why the Hawks have not been soaring lately is their lack of size in rebounding. They're ranked 25th in the league even with Smith and Horford patrolling the glass. Howard has to look to punish anyone defending him, stay active under the hoop and challenge shots that get near the rim.
> Turnovers: One of the reasons why the Hawks nearly stole the game at Staples Center is the 21 turnovers the Lakers committed for the game. The Lakers have to be much more careful in that department tonight since turnovers on the road is a lot more difficult to overcome.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Kobe Bryant: He had a bad shooting night versus Orlando last night scoring just 11 points on 4-out-of-14 shooting from the field. Expect him to set the tone offensively for the Lakers tonight.
HAWKS: Josh Smith: Smith played well in LA getting 19 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Kobe's one-handed dunk late in that game in his watch was the shot that broke Atlanta's back, so look for Smith to be more aggressive on the floor tonight.
@ Atlanta Hawks
Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are out.
HAWKS: Lou Williams (knee) is out. Zaza Pachulia (sore Achilles) is game-time decision.