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Lakers can end five-game trip on high note with victory over Atlanta


Signs that the Lakers have their mind on the postseason became visible in different ways. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant acknowledged he has paid closer attention to the standings. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson challenged his team prior to its current five-game trip to go 5-0, and not 4-1, "because that’s not what champions look for going out on the road." And he also raised the ante by proclaiming his team can reach win 60 regular-season games, another dangling carrot to keep the Lakers interested.

The Lakers 2-2 mark and the scant practices in between clearly show they just want the postseason to begin. Jackson didn't consider the trip would "make-or-break" the Lakers (54-20), considering they have comfortable leads over Dallas (49-25), Utah (49-25) and Phoenix (48-26) for the top spot in the West with eight games remaining. But a loss tonight in Atlanta (47-26) surely wouldn't assuage any concerns about the Lakers' postseason. 

Who: Atlanta Hawks (47-26)

Where: Atlanta, Philips Arena

When: Wednesday 4 p.m. PDT (KCAL-9)

Record vs. Hawks this season: 1-0

Matchup history: The Lakers rebounded quite nicely from a home loss to Dallas with a convincing 118-110 victory Nov. 2 over Atlanta. It's a good thing they did that because Jackson was so disgusted with the Lakers' 14 point loss to the Mavericks that he said fans should've been refunded their money. The fans instead were refunded with vintage performances from Kobe Bryant (41 points), Andrew Bynum (21 points) and Lamar Odom (11 points, 14 rebounds eight assists). Lakers forward Ron Artest had his first defensive standout performance, holding Hawks guard Joe Johnson to one of eight shooting in the final three quarters after he scorched the Lakers in the first quarter with 18 points. Although Jackson didn't like the Lakers held only a 74-70 lead through part of the third quarter, the Lakers easily put the game away by scoring 18 unanswered points, 12 of them coming in transition.

Outlook: Johnson isn't the only one that's been limited against the Lakers. Though Atlanta's frontcourt of Al Horford and Josh Smith average together 30.1 points and 18.5 rebounds, they have been to a combined 14.3 points and 12.5 boards per game in their last four meetings with the Lakers. Whether or not that type of performance depends on whether the Lakers break away from their inconsistent habits during this trip. The Lakers' opportunity to close their trip on a somewhat respectable note comes against an opponent jockeying for playoff position. The Hawks are tied with the Boston Celtics (47-26) for the third spot in the East and trail the Orlando Magic (52-22) for second place. Although the Hawks wonder which team the fans will be cheering for tonight, Atlanta has a 30-7 home record, while the Lakers are 22-15 on the road and 9-5 against Eastern Conference opponents. A Hawks win would mark the first time they've won nine consecutive home games since a 20-game streak between Nov. 12, 1996 - Feb. 12, 1997, and would highlight the Lakers' third consecutive loss at Philips Arena. The Hawks lead the league in fewest turnovers (12), while the Lakers have had a share poor ball handling nights this month, including a season-high 24 against Golden State, 20 against Charlotte and 18 against Oklahoma City.

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Bryant drives against Atlanta's Joe Johnson. Johnson's 28 points, including four free throws in the final 23 seconds was the key in the Hawks' 98-95-win. Credit: EPA.

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justa, you probably won't read this until after the happy gas wears off, but here's to your health.

better context


Sweet Georgia Brown

Lakers left the bench home. plastic chairs only for Ammo and Sasha. the folding chairs r not working. they r not Unfolding on the court. but no need. we r in Georgia and the Grass is Lush and Green. The Lakers can lay in the grass.

But they did not forgot PJ's throne. and looks like now Brian Shaw has one?

all Peachy in the Lakers land?

Well, i tried to get through the last couple of threads, but honestly i just can't get into the whole 'the Lakers might not make it because they don't play hard enough and might not be able to hit the on/off switch' paradigm.

I think the whole concept is flawed. You guys are just hedging your bets. I'm not going to be able to be able to have time to lay out my whole argument, but the thesis goes something like this;

if the Lakers are eliminated before they get to the finals, it won't be because they didn't hit any metaphorical switch. It will be because they got beat by a better team.

Is there a better team? I don't know, that's why the play the playoffs. Fortunately, i don't write about sports for a living, so if can honestly say 'I think the Lakers are gonna win it all.' and if they don't, i can stand here with a dumb look on my face and say 'man, i have no idea why we didn't win it all. I guess some other team is better than i thought.'

And thanks to FCM for giving us a great example of why the NBA playoffs are better than the NCAA tournament; in the NCAA tourney, the team that plays better for one game or part of a game wins.

In the NBA and in a seven game series, the better team wins. That's how it goes in the pros.

hmmm. Of course, my freudian slip of 'get to the finals' for 'win it all' might have just doomed the whole team.

in which case i'm sorry, but then again, if i have that much power, i will be happy to wield it for good and i won't try to use it to blackmail anybody into giving me season courtside tickets. Unless they really wanted to, you know, anyway.



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