As the Los Angeles Lakers get healthy and harmonious, they look like a tough team to beat come playoff time.
Los Angeles will look for its 10th win in 12 games as it continues a four-game road trip Tuesday in Atlanta.
Gary Payton, who complained about his role in the Lakers’ offense before Sunday’s 100-83 rout of New Jersey, seemed to mellow after the victory.
“If we can win a championship, I can adjust to anything,” said Payton, who is averaging 33 minutes and more than 14 points. “We can play any way, just like tonight. You can get out of it. Phil isn’t going to go into the triangle and take me out of the game because I don’t do what he wants to. If I want, he’ll let me have freedom.”
Payton scored 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter of the laugher.
“We went out there and did our thing,” Payton said. “When we are healthy, we are a strong basketball team. Once we get Karl (Malone) back, it’s going to be even more difficult for teams to beat us.”
“If we can develop a consistent way to play, we’ll be a hard team to beat,” O’Neal said. “Tonight we played very, very well. Everybody was involved. We played good defense. If we can play like this our last 24 games, we’re going to be a hard team to beat in the playoffs.”
While the Lakers continue to make their push in the Western Conference, the Hawks struggle in the East, dropping five of their last six games.
“I’m happy for me, but we still came up short,” Crawford said. “That’s the main thing for us. They made the plays at the end of the game.”
Jason Terry added 23 points for Atlanta, which saw its top three scorers log plenty of minutes.
“I hate playing three guys 45 minutes, but I thought they were playing well and they played hard,” Atlanta coach Terry Stotts said. “The guys out there were doing everything they could.”
The Lakers will finish the road trip Wednesday in Houston.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 29): Lakers - 2nd place, 5 GB, Pacific Division. Hawks - 7th place, 24 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 23.0 ppg; O’Neal, 10.7 rpg; Payton, 5.9 apg. Hawks - Terry, 16.1 ppg and 5.2 apg; Przybilla, 6.0 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Lakers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 9; Lakers, 113-67. At Los Angeles, Stanislav Medvedenko scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Bryant added 26 points as the Lakers handed the Hawks their second-worst loss ever. Jackson had 13 points for the Hawks.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 16-15 on the road; Hawks - 12-17 at home.