Lakers-Hawks Preview

The Associated PressDecember 15, 2013

Point guard or shooting guard, it doesn't really matter to Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers star seems comfortable in either spot.

Bryant is trying to take on the roles of both scorer and ball distributor for the injury-plagued Lakers, who continue a four-game trip Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.

With point guards Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all sidelined, coach Mike D'Antoni has tried to shift Bryant into more of a catalyst role - which may suit the veteran a bit better as he continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles.

"We have to somehow find some wins and gut it out. It's not pretty right now," D'Antoni said. "We don't have a playmaker and we've got to get guys healthy and get Kobe well."

Bryant has scored at least 20 points twice in four games since returning, but he also had 13 assists - two shy of his career high - in a loss at Oklahoma City on Friday.

He took only six shots and scored four points against the Thunder, and he's had a hard time getting into a groove with 25 turnovers since re-joining the lineup.

"There is no secret formula that you can sprinkle out there," D'Antoni said. "He'll get more comfortable, then the guys will get more comfortable around him and then he'll do a better job."

Bryant had the best game of his comeback with a balanced performance Saturday against Charlotte, helping the team to its first win since his return with 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in an 88-85 victory.

"I don't know what I can and can't do," he said. "I'm just trying to measure it."

Given their offensive struggles, the Lakers (11-12) would benefit from some improved play by Pau Gasol, who has averaged 18.3 points on 51.5 percent shooting in his 13-year career. This season, however, Gasol is averaging only 14.4 points and shooting a career-low 41.8 percent. He's expressed frustration playing within D'Antoni's up-tempo offense, and hasn't scored more than 20 in a game since Nov. 27.

The Hawks (12-12) will try to take advantage of a Lakers defense that is allowing 103.5 points per game this season - the second-most in the NBA.

Though Atlanta is scoring just 99.6 per game, the Hawks have options all over the floor. Big men Al Horford and Paul Milsap lead the team in scoring with 17.7 and 16.5 points per game, respectively. Point guard Jeff Teague is averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 assists, while Kyle Korver has made at least one 3-pointer in a record 93 straight games.

Reserve Lou Williams scored a season-high 27 points Saturday at New York, but the Hawks committed an NBA season-high 27 turnovers in a 111-106 loss. The Knicks scored 36 points off the miscues.

Atlanta has generally been much more careful with the basketball, averaging 15.3 turnovers this season. Teague has been an especially solid caretaker with a 2.33 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The Lakers have won 10 of their last 14 meetings with the Hawks, who have gotten each of their four wins in that span in Atlanta.