LOS ANGELES –– In a game against the East-leading Atlanta Hawks that took the floor without three starters in Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and DeMare Carroll, it was still the same old story for the Los Angeles Lakers as they fell 91-86.
Despite a short-handed team, including a fourth starter in Kyle Korver who broke his nose early in the second quarter, the Hawks held a 41-38 lead at the half. They held as much as a 15-point edge in the first two quarters.
Atlanta expanded their lead in the third quarter to double digits with Al Horford leading the way with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting,
They maintained their lead throughout the fourth quarter and they grew to 16 points. Los Angeles fought back late in the period with a 9-0 run capped off by a dunk by Ed Davis that cut the deficit to 83-76. After back-to-back jumpers by Carlos Boozer, Los Angeles narrowed the margin to 84-80 with 1:05 left in the game.
Horford then split a pair of free throws, Wesley Johnson knocked down a corner 3-pointer to pull the Lakers within 85-83 with 30.1 seconds remaining. Schroder responded with a layup past Jordan Clarkson with 13.9 left in the game.
Johnson airballed a 3-pointer on the Lakers’ next possession, but were able to cut the lead to 89-86 after a 3-pointer by Ryan Kelly. Dennis Schroder, who had 12 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, sealed the win with a pair of free throws.
Los Angeles had just three players in double figures scoring with Boozer and Kelly leading the way with 13 points apiece. Clarkson had 10 points along with a career-high eight rebounds, and six assists.
Schroder led the Hawks with a double-double of 24 points and 10 assists with Teague out. Horford also picked up the slack with 21 points and five rebounds. Former Laker Kent Bazemore had a near double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds.
For Lakers head coach Byron Scott the game was decided in one glaring area: turnovers.
“My message was simple. 22 turnovers and 28 points. It’s that simple,” Scott said. “It doesn’t seem to matter who is in the game, they’re just going to run their stuff. You make a mistake and they’re going to make you pay. They’re just a very good basketball team. They play the game the way it should be played. They play without an agenda. The bottom line for them is winning.”
Another problem for Scott was once again the team’s lack of ball movement and the lack of setting screens, which he said have been an ongoing problem this season.
“We just don’t do a good job of that for some reason. We have to get better at setting screens for each other,” Scott said. “That’s just being unselfish. That’s the bottom line. You have to be committed to doing that on a night to night basis.”
The Lakers began the game making two out of their first 14 shot attempts of the game. Atlanta, who also struggled offensively to start the game, raced out to a 23-8 advantage behind eight points from Shelvin Mack, who led the bench with 18 points, with a pair of back to back 3-pointers.
Los Angeles closed the quarter strong narrowing the deficit to 23-14 by scoring the last six points of the quarter.The Lakers’ second unit went on a 15-2 run to begin the second quarter capped off by a running banked in floater by Jabari Brown to tie the game at 25. However, Atlanta scored the next five points, and expanded their lead to as much as seven points in the quarter.
Los Angeles cut the margin to just three points to 41-38 at at half after Clarkson made a tough layup over two defenders prior to the break. For the first half, Clarkson led the Lakers with eight points and four rebounds, and Kelly was the leading scorer off the bench with eight points. Schroder led the Hawks with 12 points and six assists at the half.
Here are five things learned from Sunday’s loss:
Jordan Clarkson’s all-around play
Clarkson shooting struggles continued in the first quarter after he knocked down his first shot as he missed the next three attempts. Despite that, he remained persistent making three of his shots in the second quarter, including a layup over two defenders just before the buzzer at the half.
He was quiet in the third quarter with just one shot attempt, and grabbed a pair of rebounds. Clarkson got to in double figures in fourth quarter on a pull-up jumper, and dished out a couple of assists during the Lakers’ 16-2 run that cut deficit to just 85-83. He had a couple of finds for Boozer on jumpers, and a slick pass down low to Davis for the open dunk while driving to the basket.
Although Clarkson’s shot was not falling for a second consecutive game, he found other ways to contribute grabbing a career-high eight rebounds. It was an all-around effort from the rookie, but he stated that his off-shooting night to missing many of the shots in the second half were “open looks” that he simply didn’t drop in.
“I had some good looks, especially in the second half. I just got to keep shooting I know they will fall,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to stay confident, especially in the game, I kept continuing to try to hit it. I just kept going hard.”
Scott prior to the game had praised the 22-year-old as a young player with the right attitude, and praised his never-give-up mentality that”he falls down and he gets back. He just doesn’t lay down”
Clarkson following the loss, echoed that same sentiment as he displayed that same drive and focus to get better as a player for the betterment of the team.
“I’m just trying to improve and be the best player I can be,” Clarkson said. “I know if I better myself individually I can better the team.”
Jabari Brown keeps rolling
The 22-year-old in his second game played continued to be aggressive on offense when he took the floor.
Brown made his first two shots of the game on two impressive plays on the fast break off turnovers. The first was a layup in transition that he showed great body control as he adjusted in mid air to contact and made the layup. The second was on a breakaway dunk that displayed his athleticism and explosion in his drives to the basket early in the second.
He later in the second quarter tied the game at 25 with a banked in floater. Brown continued to remain perfect in the second half with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, but missed his other shot attempt in the period. He played eight minutes in the fourth quarter, but didn’t take a shot and grabbed one rebound.
That said, Scott had much praise for the 23-year-old stating that he belongs in the league, and has many NBA qualities as a player.
“I think Jabari is one of those guys that can probably next year or so belong in this league,” Scott said. “He guards people, he’s a tough kid, offensively he takes what you give him, and he makes good decisions too, which is something that is important. So I think that he has a place in this league.”
Brown,who had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, was honored to receive such high praise from Scott after just his second game in the NBA.
“It’s a great compliment especially coming from a guy who has played in the league and has won championships.” Brown said. “Just validation of hard work, and I’m just going to try and keep it going.”
Brown has been a spark off the bench in his first two games with the Lakers as he is averaging 8.0 points on 7-11 shooting. The biggest difference for Brown in his second go-around with the team, which his first being in training camp, is his aggressiveness on offense. He doesn’t have any fear of taking shots, and picks his spots in the game to find them.
All in all, Brown believes he is a player that can bring a lot to the table for the team.
“I’m a player that can help bring energy like tonight, and make good things happen,” Brown said.
Over the last four games have seemingly grown into a rebounding powerhouse holding a 59-rebound advantage over their opponents in that stretch.
In Sunday’s game, that was once again the case against the Hawks. Los Angeles had an edge on each of the first two quarters of the game, and doubled them up 16-8 in the second quarter. They were also up in offensive rebounds 11-4, which included a 6-1 advantage in the second quarter.
The second half was the same story with rebounding advantages in each quarter, and were ahead 8-3 on the offensive boards. Los Angeles had five players with at least seven rebounds, and four players with at least three offensive rebounds. In total they had a 20-plus rebound edge over Atlanta on Sunday night.
It was total domination on the glass for the Lakers, which for the most part kept them in an ugly team shooting night. However, it was the turnovers that made the biggest impact on the outcome of the game.
“It was the turnovers. we may outrebound them , but the turnovers were the issue,” Tarik Black said, who seven points and seven rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. “You get turnovers and then get out in the fast break. They had a lot of points off of turnovers and that plays a big role in winning or losing a game.”
Their improved rebounding has been a definite factor in keeping them competitive in games when their shots are not falling. That said, rebounding can only take a team so far when they either are missing shots or turning the ball over at a high rate.
Los Angeles carried their shooting problems over from Thursday’s loss to the New York Knicks, as they struggled from the get-go shooting 14.3 percent to begin the game making just three out of their first 14 shots. Things didn’t improve as the evening wore on as they shot just 31 percent in the first half.
They were able to shoot but 50 percent in the third quarter, but committed seven turnovers in the period. The final quarter were able to have the same shooting success, but it all came when the team was trying to claw back into in a too-little-too-late fashion.They also didn’t have a player in double figures scoring until Kelly knocked down a 3-pointer with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter that gave him 10 points for the game.
It was just as if everything was coming off the seams for the Lakers in the loss as it was one problem after another. Their growing frustration from the missed shots led to many unnecessary turnovers throughout the game, and dug the hole deeper for them to come out back from.
Scott believed that the team’s struggles on offense had much to do with the team’s lack of ball movement, and did a “terrible job” with screen setting from the big men, which he said has been a season-long issue for them. It is a problem that Scott couldn’t muster a clear answer by stating that it may be an issue of the team’s big men just not getting the job done in that area.
Each of the Lakers’ players following the loss made it a point to discuss the issue. Clarkson said that the “screen-action” plays made the game easier late in the fourth quarter that allowed them to make the 16-2 run to make it a two-point deficit.
Both Davis and Black that the it is a responsibility that solely falls on the big men to improve on moving forward.
“If he’s saying we’re not setting enough screens, then we need to get better at it,” Black said.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers must improve in this basic area of the game if they hope to get out of their current offensive funk.
Nick Young’s season in jeopardy
Entering Sunday’s game against the Hawks, Nick Young had missed the last nine games, and now his status for the final month of season appears to be in jeopardy as well.
For the last couple of weeks, the 29-year-old has been experiencing persistent swelling in his left knee, and Lakers head coach Byron Scott indicated on Sunday that it hasn’t improved.
“It’s slow (to heal),” Scott said on Young’s injury. “They don’t understand why.”
Young was expected to travel with the team on their upcoming road trip, but there is a growing concern over the injury so much so that the Lakers are now going to conduct a CT scan on Monday on his knee.
It hasn’t been the season that Young had expected after signing a multi-year deal with the Lakers last offseason. He is averaging 13.4 points on a career-low 36 percent shooting from the field in 23.8 minutes in 42 games played this season.
Young had come on strong in his return to a torn ligament in his right thumb to start the season, but his shooting struggles amounted in January. He shot just 32 percent from the field, including 30 percent from 3-point range, and only shot over 50 percent in only two games for the entire month.
Prior to his latest ailment he was shooting just 32 percent in seven games played in February.
Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok, AP
Bob Garcia IV
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