L.A. Lakers at Atlanta Hawks
Time: 5 PM CST, Sunday (NBA LP)
Spread: LAL -11.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Los Angeles Lakers are 23-3 and currently riding a six-game win streak as it travels to face the Atlanta Hawks. The Lakers are heavy 11.5-point favorites over Atlanta, with the over/under set at 226.5 total points. The game will air at 5 PM (CST) on NBA TV.
The Los Angeles Lakers are just starting to heat up at 23-3. It has won 16 of its last 17 overall and is currently seated atop the Western Conference. It appears the gamble to wager so much young talent to obtain Anthony Davis has paid off thus far. Davis leads the team in scoring, providing a powerful punch that LeBron James has done little more than feast from. The Lakers rank No. 8 in the Association in scoring at 113.7 points per game while possessing a defense that limits teams to just 104.2 (+9.5 point differential). The Lakers also rank No. 5 in the league in assists per game as a team, tallying an impressive 26.4 per game.
James, of course, ranks highest in the assist category, even with the dime-dropping Rajon Rondo coming in to play alongside him. James is averaging 10.8 assists per game, to go with his 25.9 points, seven rebounds and 1.8 blocks/steals per game. Davis is leading the way with 27.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while coming up with 1.5 steals and 2.6 blocks per contest.
The missing thing, if anything, has been the Kyle Kuzma that Los Angeles is used to seeing. Kuzma has played 20 games this season since returning from injury, but he has only started one of those. He averages just 23.1 minutes per game, and his shooting percentages are mediocre at 43 percent field goals and 36 percent triples. Kuzma averages the third-most of any Laker at 11.1 per game, but he really should be over at least 15 points per game. Avery Bradley is the No. 4 scorer at just nine points per game, though Bradley is known to be a defensive pest and that is his primary focus while on the court.
Kuzma, meanwhile, is known to be a shooter but not really excelling in that lone aspect of his offense. Rondo, as mentioned, comes off the bench to play 21 minutes a game, picking up nearly six assists in those limited minutes. The biggest pleasant surprise has undoubtedly been Dwight Howard. While his numbers are far from eye-popping, he has embraced the role of a defensive-minded presence whose job is to protect the rim and grab boards. Howard has averaged just under 20 minutes a game, providing just under seven points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He has rotated well on defense, communicated, and been something of a second-unit leader. The Lakers are pleased with their low-risk investment in Howard, which drew more than its fair share of criticism even though the Lakers were not contractually bound to the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
To be sure, he is not the “same guy” that averaged over 21 points per game for the Orlando Magic. That All-Star form is firmly in the past, but Howard’s defensive energy is partly responsible for the Lakers’ overall turnaround as a team on the defensive end. Davis is, naturally, an even bigger part of this picture, but the Lakers were expected to be a slow team on defense, and that has been nowhere close to true, even with Davis often playing the 4-spot. In fact, so many things have fallen into place that other than getting better play out of its No. 3 scorer in Kuzma, it is hard to find any other areas of overt weakness in the Lakers approach thus far in 2019-20.
The Atlanta Hawks are just 6-20 in a season that was expected to be one of great improvement. Much of this could be attributed to the loss of John Collins to a 25-game suspension, but to be 14 games below .500 before the half-way mark of the season is a challenge the Hawks really did not plan for necessarily. Trae Young has been absolutely atomically hot most of this season, but the Hawks are just 3-9 at home where it hosts Los Angeles today.
The worst aspect for the Hawks, perhaps expectedly, has been its defense. Atlanta is allowing 118.4 points per game, which is the third-worst in the NBA. It scores 108.5 itself, but that, too, is in the bottom-third of NBA teams. It adds up to a -9.9 point differential and a lot of pretty lopsided losses for the young Hawks.
Young, though, has been sensational. The second-year point guard from Oklahoma is averaging 27.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game while posting a PER over 20 (22.96, actually), while no one else outside of the suspended Collins is over that mark. Jabari Parker has attempted to pick up the slack left behind by Collins, but Parker is also not much of an individual defender. Rookie DeAndre Hunter has seen a bigger role than anticipated due to Collins’ absence, as well Hunter has been solid. He is averaging 12.8 points, four rebounds and two assists per game in 31.8 minutes per game (which is second-most to only Young’s 34.8).
The Hawks have also been without key rotational player Kevin Huerter, who shined last season as a rookie. Atlanta really just needs its full continent to have time to grow this season and build chemistry, before again landing in the lottery and selecting the next young talent to add to its core. The Hawks have a great and promising duo with Collins and Young, but they have only played five games together thus far. Accordingly, there are a lot of questions for the Hawks to still sort out over the remainder of this season.