Lakers push the pace, rout Hawks for 4th straight win

LOS ANGELES — Friday night saw the Lakers rack up a number of superlatives: their highest-scoring first quarter of the season, their biggest lead at halftime, their first four-game win streak.

Most surprising of all: They did it without four key rotation players, against an Atlanta Hawks team that was near full strength.

The 130-114 victory might end up saying more about the Hawks than the Lakers, but comparing the two teams was revealing. As Atlanta spent nearly an entire half on its heels, the Lakers were hard-charging, grabbing rebounds and sprinting down the floor. Whereas the Hawks’ biggest star Trae Young struggled to get his teammates involved early, LeBron James had nine assists by halftime, along with a 21-point lead.

It was wire-to-wire domination by a Lakers team that is facing some of its toughest injury circumstances of the season. But they haven’t backed down so far, following a Dennis Schröder-led victory over Miami with another win reflecting a total team effort. Kendrick Nunn had 23 points off the bench, while Thomas Bryant had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Schröder had 21 points as an encore (and made five of the Lakers’ 16 3-pointers), and Russell Westbrook was an assist shy of a triple-double, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

While James finished with 25 points, fueled by a furious fourth quarter, he also got to sit the last six minutes of the game – a rare luxury since All-Star big man Anthony Davis was injured last month.

The main ingredient to the hot start was tempo. Even as Atlanta coach Nate McMillan outlined during pregame the need to slow the Lakers down, his team did little to follow that plan. The Lakers decimated the Hawks for 17 fast-break points in the first 14 minutes of the game.

Atlanta, which has lost five of six games, seemed in a haze in the second quarter as the Lakers poured it on. They led by as much as 26 points in the first half, during which the Hawks were only 16 for 49 from the floor. By halftime, the Lakers already had five players in double figures; Young, Atlanta’s only double-digit scorer, was 3 for 10 against a rotating cast of defenders.

Just hours before, the Lakers had ruled out a slew of wings: Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. James was ruled available, but had missed Wednesday’s game with a cold. His so-so early shooting – he started 6 for 14 from the field – reflected that rust.

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But among those benefiting the most from the absences was Nunn, who racked up six DNPs in December alone. The 27-year-old has never lacked for confidence, however, and finally armed with minutes, he put up his highest-scoring game of the season (and as a Laker) while knocking down shots in the pick-and-roll and from the corner – the sort of impact the Lakers imagined he might make when they signed him back in summer 2021.

Atlanta closed to within 10 points in the fourth quarter before James slammed the door shut with back-to-back drives to the basket, capped with a Nunn corner 3-pointer.

More to come on this story.

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