The Lakers’ small ball attack worked to almost perfection, while Malik Monk (and several others) rose in major ways as the Purple and Gold defeated Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks 134-118 for one of their best wins of the season.
The Lakers had four scorers with more than 20 points — LeBron James, Avery Bradley, Monk and Tallinn Horton Tucker — and the team looked as comfortable in attack as they had done all season.
The Lakers climbed to a double-digit lead in the first half as little ball strategy dominated Atlanta until the final round in the second quarter narrowed the gap to just three at the end of the first half.
With the Hawks selling to neutralize James and Russell Westbrook, two Los Angeles ball stars combined for 14 passes before the break (!) as Bradley and Monk traded fire, with 16 and 21 first-half points, respectively. Both guards were excited from a distance early on, combining to go 8-10 from the 3-point streak in the first two runs.
LeBron and Ross both started off cool, but as Westbrook struggled all night, King caught fire late to shut out the Hawks, scoring 17 in the fourth quarter alone, finishing with a 32-point team. Ross just missed another hat-trick before coming out with less than five minutes left, to finish the match with 9 Points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, and a high team plus minus +22.
James also added four steals to Alvin Robertson’s pass to finish 10th in the NBA all-time roster, according to Lakers PR (H/T for our Cooper Halpern).
But, as has often been the case in recent times, the monk was the brightest. The third-year-old finished with a season-high 29 points – he nearly reached a career high at 36 – and has continued his hot play lately. Going into Friday’s entry, former Charlotte Hornet has averaged 20.7 points per game in six games since returning from NBA health and safety protocols at Christmas. This performance was punctuated by flying for a stellar dip three times more than Bradley’s.
Tallinn Horton Tucker also had a fantastic night with 21 points, as his confidence and passing ability looked the same at any time this season. He made a pair of notable plays in the third quarter with a monster tomahawk inundation and then a beautiful alley for James soon after.
The downsides of the Lakers’ approach to small ball on the defensive end were evident, especially since Anthony Davis still had a sprained knee and Trevor Ariza was trying to get back into playing form after ankle surgery and a COVID-19 exposure derailed most of his season to this point. The Hawks enjoyed a roll on the Lakers’ small defensive front, with Young finishing 25 points and 14 assists while John Collins, Clint Kabila and Onika Okongo, of Los Angeles, scored double goals.
Although the Lakers are playing well as expected in attack, it took all four quarters to fully pull out the Hawks, who made several runs to stay in the game until they ran out of gas in hindsight.
However, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about the 2021-22 Lakers, tonight has delivered a lot. After much chaos to start the season as Frank Vogel and the coaching staff dealt with countless injuries and inconsistency to find a winning squad, the Lakers seem to have come up with a solution, at least for the time being.
With James in the center and Stanley Johnson providing a solid defense by his side in the frontal area, the Lakers are now able to create ground space for LeBron and Ross. Bradley, whose contract was guaranteed earlier in the day, went from a deep emergency signing to an invaluable role against all odds in his second spell with the Lakers, where he was able to make the right cut at the right time – as well as making enough shots from outside to make Defenses respect him – making him a hard fit alongside James Westbrook.
Meanwhile, Monk looks like an out-of-season steal as he continues to realize potential as a top scorer who made him the 11th pick in the 2017 NBA draft outside of Kentucky. Meanwhile, former SoCal minor hoops legend Stanley Johnson is providing a much-needed winger defense to give the Lakers time to get Ariza and Davis – their intended forward area that has yet to play a minute side-by-side – to get back up to speed.
In addition, Carmelo Anthony, Austin Reaves and THT’s single bench unit look increasingly comfortable in their roles as well, able to provide the floor spacing and ball handling needed to keep attacking buzzes when their numbers are called. Although Los Angeles’ defense still had a lot of holes, their attack was so good under the new little ball style that it might not matter against most opponents.
The Lakers are 5-0 when LeBron starts out averaging 127 points in those games
– LakerFilmRoom January 8, 2022
The win means the team remains undefeated (4-0) with their new starting lineup of James, Monk, Bradley, Westbrook and Johnson, and they have won four consecutive games – the longest winning streak of the season, five from six – to move to 21-19. In the year.
They will now have a day off before hosting the Memphis Grizzlies at The Crypt on Sunday.
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