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Defense fails Hawks in 123-116 loss to Lakers

It had to happen sometime.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have enjoyed a favorable schedule in the early going but, on Wednesday evening, the team lost a game that it wasn’t supposed to lose. The home team was favored by 12 points by the good folks in Las Vegas, but at the end of the night, it was the Los Angeles Lakers escaping Philips Arena with a 123-116 victory and the Hawks left to recover from their first defeat of the campaign.

In the early going, it was Dwight Howard that set the tone for the Hawks. The big man took full control against Lakers center Ivica Zubac and, within just six minutes, Howard had forced his opponent to the bench with three fouls after dominating him for position.

Later in the first quarter, Tim Hardaway Jr. zoomed to eight points over a four-minute period and he finished the period with 14 points on only six shots. In fact, the reserve swingman pushed the Hawks to an 11-2 run to close the first period, and that provided Atlanta with a 37-28 cushion after 12 minutes.

Offensively, the first half was quite strong for the Hawks as a whole. The team assisted on its first 11 field goals while totaling 16 dimes in the half and Atlanta scored 60 points prior to the break to set its highest mark for any half this season. The other end, though, was less desirable, as the Lakers shot 50 percent from the floor on the way to 51 points, including 15 points in 13 minutes for Jordan Clarkson.

Still, the Hawks held a 9-point lead as the third quarter opened, and all looked to be well... until it wasn’t. The Lakers exploded for a 12-2 run to slash the lead to 70-68 with haste, and Los Angeles would battle closely throughout the third quarter. Mike Budenholzer was visibly upset with the defensive effort (and rightly so), pulling the entire starting lineup together at the 3:25 mark, but nonetheless, the Lakers hung around and Atlanta held only a four-point margin after three quarters.

Then, Los Angeles would actually take the lead within 90 seconds of the start of the fourth quarter, as rookie Brandon Ingram drained a three to 99-98, and the Lakers weren’t done. Lou Williams converted a three-point play to give the visitors a four-point lead (while capping a 12-4 run) and the crowd was suddenly alive with folks clad in purple and gold.

Luke Walton’s team kept coming, increasing their fourth quarter run to 17-6 while building a seven-point lead at 107-100. On cue, though, the Hawks responded, as Dennis Schröder produced a steal and a lay-up before Kyle Korver knocked down a three to send the Lakers into a timeout while clinging to only a two-point advantage.

Pretty ball movement would soon create a three from Kent Bazemore that cut into the lead at 109-108 and, in short order, Dwight Howard smashed home a dunk that kept Atlanta afloat at 111-110. Still, the Hawks struggled mightily to get stops, as Lou Williams (who had 16 points in the fourth quarter) aided in the visiting team taking a 118-112 lead with 1:40 to play.

With haste, Dwight Howard was then called for an illegal screen on the offensive end coming out of a timeout, but the Hawks did manage to get a stop defensively. Then, Dennis Schröder converted two free throws to cut the lead to 118-114 and, after another stop, Atlanta had the opportunity to make a real threat. However, Schröder was rejected at the rim and Nick Young quickly added a dagger three to effectively end the night for everyone involved.

There were bright individual spots during this game, including Howard (31 points, 11 rebounds) and Hardaway Jr. (26 points on only 10 shots), but the team defense was woeful from a group that will be heavily reliant upon that end of the court throughout the season. The Hawks will have the opportunity to bounce back from their first loss of the season on Friday in the nation’s capital, but until then, Mike Budenholzer will likely be stewing about his team’s defensive showing on this night.

Stay tuned.