The Atlanta Hawks have had a habit of barely showing up against some of the NBA’s better teams, a trend that was readily apparent their last time out against perhaps the league’s most talented squad.
As long as they’re playing at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers certainly belong in that same upper echelon.
The Hawks open a five-game trip Tuesday night against the Lakers, who return from their own lengthy road swing looking to win for a 12th time in 14 home games.
It seemed like Atlanta’s penchant for wilting against better opponents was a thing of the past after consecutive wins over Indiana and Orlando last week, but it lost 107-87 to visiting Miami on Sunday in a game in which it trailed by as many as 32.
The Hawks (18-10) have 13 wins against sub-.500 opponents by an average of 15.1 points, but the loss to the Heat was something all too familiar for coach Larry Drew’s team. Atlanta’s nine losses to clubs with winning records have come by an average of 13.1 points, and it’s fallen behind by at least 20 in its last five defeats overall.
“We just didn’t compete. You can’t have that in this league,” said Joe Johnson, who has averaged 13.3 points in the Hawks’ losses and 20.9 in their wins. “You would think everyone would come out prepared to battle for 48 minutes, but it seems as if we just didn’t want it.”
The Lakers’ problems haven’t been as much about the quality of their opponent - they’re 8-9 against above-.500 teams - as they’ve been about where they’re playing.
But after starting 2-7 on the road, Los Angeles (16-12) salvaged a split of a six-game trip Sunday in Toronto thanks to Kobe Bryant. After the Lakers blew an 18-point lead and were trailing by four in the final minute, the league’s leading scorer had six of his 27 points, a steal and an assist to help secure a 94-92 win.
“We are a poor road team and that is what we need to turn around,” Bryant said. “If we could figure out a way to win on the road our record would be much, much better. We are a very good home team.”
That’s largely due to defense. The 85.2 points per game the Lakers allow at Staples are by far the fewest in the Western Conference and 10.6 less than they surrender on the road.
Offensively, though, Los Angeles’ role players simply tend to knock down shots at home. Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s numbers vary little, but Steve Blake and Matt Barnes are averaging a combined 18.0 points and shooting 47.2 percent at Staples compared to 10.5 points and 34.9 percent on the road.
The Lakers have scored at least 96 points in nine of their 13 home games, a number they’ve reached just twice on the road.
The Hawks have the NBA’s best road defense, however, surrendering 89.3 points per game and 42.0 percent shooting. They’ve held opponents to five points fewer than that during four consecutive road wins while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range.
Recent history is against those hallmarks following Atlanta into Staples Center. The Hawks have lost five straight road games to the Lakers by an average of 17.0 points, allowing 109.2 points per game while shooting 25.0 percent from long distance.
Josh Smith has been held to 8.8 points on 37.2 percent shooting in the last four of that stretch.