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Hawks’ defense falls flat in loss to Lakers

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Lakers score 72 in the second half and hand the Hawks their first loss of the season.

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

Atlanta’s three-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday night with a 123-116 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Philips Arena. The game was a departure of what we had seen from the Hawks over the first three games of the season. The Lakers shot 54 percent from the field for the game and 59 percent in the second half while outscoring Atlanta 72-56 over that span.

“As I told the guys in the locker room, give the Lakers a lot of credit on how they played, on how they played offensively, defensively, their movement, their shot-making, their playmaking,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game.

“They were impressive. I think we can be a lot better. We need to be a lot better. Thirty-nine and thirty-three in the third and fourth quarters. That’s hard to imagine. We can be so much sharper on both ends of the court. Credit to different guys for different stretches for them. They really made plays.”

The loss was the first time all season that Atlanta had been outscored in the fourth quarter. While Los Angeles didn’t provide much defensive resistance, they controlled the pace of the game throughout the second half.

“I thought they were the ones that were kind of dictating the pace and dictating the score,” Budenholzer added. We’re taking the ball out of the basket a lo. I think tonight was more like a shootout than it was a game with a lot of pace and a lot of movement. I didn’t think offensively we moved people or moved the ball that well. A lot of points, but not like we would like to see the game unfold.”

The loss spoiled big offensive contributions from Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. Howard led the team with 31 points and 11 rebounds. He was 12 for 16 from the field and 7 of 10 from the free throw line. Hardaway Jr. netted 26 off the bench including five made three-pointers.

D’Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 23 points while former Hawk Lou Williams scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“They just played better than us,” Hardaway told reporters after the game. “I give credit where credit is due. They came out with a sense of urgency in the second half. Scored 39 in the third and then 33 in the fourth. It’s unacceptable. They made a lot of tough shots and got to the free throw line. Their bench did a great job of just coming in there and playing ball and sticking with it. Then their first group came in and sealed the game.”

Perhaps most disheartening for Atlanta is that the Hawks had a full day’s rest between games while the Lakers were on the second night of a back-to-back after losing in Indiana on Tuesday.

“They made it seem like we had a back-to-back,” Hardaway said. “They’re young. They’re talented. At the end of the day, it comes down to getting stops and making shots, and that’s what they did.”

Atlanta has had a soft schedule to start the season but it still important not to get to caught up on any single performance good or bad. This team is still finding itself, but Wednesday was a great example of what happens when they don’t bring the proper defensive focus. It is a situation where they have to look at what happened, accept it and move on.

“We just have to get the next one,” Howard said. “We can’t go back and try to figure out how we can win this game again, because we can’t get this one back. We have to get ready for Washington. Sit at home, think about the game tonight and see how we can get better. We have to let tonight go and get ready for the next game. No team wants to lose. We have to figure out what we can do to get better in certain areas. We’ll be fine.”

The Hawks travel to Washington on Friday for a rematch with the Wizards then return home on Saturday to host the Rockets.