LOS ANGELES — Injuries are stunting the growth of the young Los Angeles Lakers.
With second-year starting point guard D'Angelo Russell missing the last three games and out for the next two weeks, and forward Julius Randle and shooting guard Nick Young sitting out Friday's 24-point romp by the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers stumbled to losses in four of their last five games.
“Hopefully, we can get them back as soon as possible,” said backup point guard Jose Calderon, who has filled in for Russell. “We need everybody. On this team, one of the things I think we have is we have a lot of guys who can really play. We play like 10 guys on some nights. We're going to get back to that and it's going to help. Let's not get too caught up in the last couple of games.”
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The Lakers (8-9) try to rebound Sunday when they host the Atlanta Hawks. It will be their second and final meeting of the regular season. The Lakers posted a 123-116 victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Nov. 2.
A hip pointer kept Randle out of the last two games. A sore toe on the left foot of Young forced him to be scratched from Friday's contest against the Warriors. Although Lakers coach Luke Walton was hopeful both could play Sunday, Randle was unable to finish practice Saturday after experiencing pain in his hip.
The outlook is more optimistic for Young, who hurt himself in Tuesday's victory over the Oklahoma City, a triumph in which the colorful performer hit a game-winning 3-pointer.
A leaky defense is hampering the Lakers almost as much as the injuries. They are giving up 111.9 points per game, which is 28th in the NBA. Opponents are shooting 48.7 percent, ranking the Lakers last in the league.
“It's funny. I think we've gotten better at some things. We're just not doing it consistently enough,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “Sometimes, our defense looks great; other times we've really struggled. There is growth that I see, but there is also slippage.”
The Hawks (10-6), leaders of the Southeast Division, have fallen on a slippery slope recently, dropping four of their last five contests after a 9-2 start. Atlanta was handed a 95-68 beatdown Friday by the host Utah Jazz, the third time the Hawks suffered a double-digit setback during their rough stretch.
“It's frustrating to have all this talent and all these good players and be a mediocre team,” said Hawks guard and former Laker Kent Bazemore, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It's tough. It sucks to be a competitor and have your face bashed in on a nightly basis, two of the last three games. It burns.”
Ex-Laker Dwight Howard returns for the first time in a Hawks' uniform. Howard, who was third in the NBA in rebounding at 12.9 boards per game heading into Saturday's games, signed with his hometown team during the offseason after spending the last three campaigns with the Houston Rockets.
Howard averages 14.1 points. Paul Millsap leads the Hawks in scoring at 16.6 points, while guard Dennis Schroeder averages 14.3.