Lakers at Hawks: Three Things to Know, 2-1-21

The Lakers (15-6) head to Atlanta (10-9) for the seventh game of their road trip for a 4:30 p.m. tip on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

Sometimes, the most difficult part of the final game of a long NBA road trip isn’t so much the opponent as it is the mental urge to get back home, which can deter focus from the task at hand. The Lakers have been on the road since Jan. 20, having stayed in seven different cities while being mostly confined to their rooms and the arena. That’s a lot of miles flown, a lot of airplane stairs climbed, without much release.

Coach Frank Vogel is one of the NBA’s best at keeping his squad focused on what they need to accomplish that day, and it helps having LeBron James, with his “Keep the main thing the main thing” motto borrowed from Pat Riley. That will be all important against the Hawks if the Lakers are to come home with a victory.

Atlanta’s young point guard, Trae Young, enters the matchup with L.A. playing his best basketball of the season. His last five scoring games, boosted by 22 made threes: 38; 43; 38; 28; 41.

The Lakers have produced effective game plans going back to last season against high-scoring guards, though they haven’t always executed as they’d like. Most recently, they held Golden State’s Steph Curry to 26 points on 8 of 22 FG’s, an inefficient night for the former MVP. But Portland’s Damian Lillard managed 31 points on only 16 shots in their Dec. 28 game.

That said, the Lakers were terrific against Lillard last postseason, holding him to 24.3 points on 39.8% FG’s. Young is the rare player with similar range to Curry and Lillard, even if he’s less efficient, shooting 34.6 percent from 3 for his three-year career. How disciplined the Lakers stick to the game plan of forcing him into tough shots with their high-pressure guards like Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso off the bench will highly impact the matchup.

While it’s not too big of a surprise that the Lakers are the top ranked defense thus far, with an efficiency number of 104.8, not many had the Hawks in the top 10 as well. They sit at No. 9 with a 108.4 efficiency, ahead of teams like the Celtics (10th), Clippers (12th), Raptors (16th) and Bucks (17th).

That’s a big jump for a Hawks team that ranked 28th last season, as well as 28th two seasons ago. What’s different? Well, they’ve added a true rim-protecting big man in Clint Capela, who’s among the league leaders with 2.3 blocks per game, while young wings like DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter have helped shore up the perimeter. Hunter in particular has been effective in often taking on the best defensive assignment, though he will miss the game against the Lakers with an injury to his knee that the team hopes is minor.

The Lakers have a deep, versatile offensive attack, though they have failed to score 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season at Detroit and Boston, and just the third time all season. One thing that could help: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a Georgia native, getting back on track. He's been in double figures in only two of the previous six games. We’ll see if they can pick things up against a shorthanded, yet still improved ATL defense on Monday.