Court Vision: Hawks stumble against struggling Lakers

BY Zach Dillard • November 18, 2014

Going inside the Atlanta Hawks' 114-109 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night:

1. At the hands of a dysfunctional Lakers team, the Hawks suffered their worst loss of the season, bar none. Losses to the Raptors, Spurs and Cavaliers were understandable. A road loss to the Hornets in overtime wasn't a worst-case scenario. But this loss, coming at home against one of the worst teams in the league, a team reeling from a franchise-worst 1-9 start, was the ugliest.

The Hawks fell behind 31-20 after the first 12 minutes. They ended up giving up 67 points in a disaster of a first half defensively. A big third-quarter and improved defensive play in the second half could not erase the deficit, though, as Atlanta's final chance to tie the game -- a wide-open 3-pointer from Pero Antic -- missed the mark with one second remaining.

Coach Mike Budenholzer's Hawks were just a few millimeters away from overtime, but the back-and-forth action and close calls in the fourth quarter didn't decide the game. The first half, and Atlanta's inability to stop Carlos Boozer, Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin, dug the hole too deep. Budenholzer's been saying it since preseason camp: the Hawks have to get better on the defensive end.

"They were comfortable. They got a lot of buckets," Budenholzer said of the first-half performance. "Boozer played well for them tonight, he made some shots. Jeremy Lin got going. Halfway through the quarter, from the four- or five-minute point on, Kobe Bryant made a few shots. They had a lot of guys shooting and a lot of guys playing well. We aren't where we need to be defensively."

The Hawks were one of the 10 worst teams in the league in terms of defensive efficiency, allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions ... and that was before L.A. shot 54 percent from the floor and came one points shy of its season high with 114 points. That's all been painfully obvious after giving up 241 points in their past two outings.

2. In an exaggerated way, the Lakers season is underscoring the dramatic difference between the Eastern and Western conferences. At 2-9, very little has gone right for Kobe Bryant & Co. ... unless they face a team from the East. With wins against Charlotte and Atlanta, the lowly Lakers are 2-0 against Eastern Conference teams. You can do the math against the rest of the West.

Using Basketball Reference's simple rating system (SRS), a metric that factors in point differential and strength of schedule to rank NBA teams above or below average, it's not difficult to see that there's a good league and a bad league. It's been like this for quite some time.

According to SRS, the Eastern Conference claims three teams -- the Raptors, Cavaliers and Bulls -- that are more than one win above average. The Western Conference? Nine teams. Taking it a step further: the East's best team right now (Toronto) would be the fourth-best team in the West, while the East's second-best (Cavs) would rank below the Rockets for No. 8.

The gap is a canyon. The Lakers should know by now.

All of these numbers are entering Tuesday's games, so things are only going to get worse for the Hawks. Holding a 5-5 record, they are two games below average (SRS) and falling after their back-to-back defensive downfalls. They need to turn things around quickly, but it's difficult seeing the schedule getting too much easier from here.

3. Kobe Bryant's scoring numbers are back above his career levels, but Tuesday night was arguably his most efficient night of the campaign. Much of Bryant's scoring resurgence has come via volume -- he's averaging an NBA-best 27.3 points per game, but shooting just 38 percent from the floor -- but that wasn't the case at Philips Arena. Kyle Korver made reference to the "old Kobe" in his postgame interview, and he wasn't talking about the age.

Bryant finished the game with 28 points, which doesn't sound like an onslaught considering he's eclipsed the 30-point mark four times this season. However, the future Hall of Famer shot 10 of 18 from the floor (3 for 7 from 3-point range) and hit each of his five free throws. He also dished out three assists and grabbed four rebounds. It was the first time his shooting percentage was over 45 percent in any game this season.

For good measure, his performance took him over 32,000 career points -- putting him in an elite group with Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Karl Malone.

5: For the fifth time in the first 10 games this season, the Hawks allowed at least 100 points. In four of those games, they walked away with a loss.

61.4: The Lakers shot 61.4 percent from the field in the first half, the best any Hawks opponent has shot in either half this season.

"It means a lot. I can't stress how much work it is just to be in this position and be able to get out there and play." -- Kobe Bryant on reaching 32,000-Point Club