After playing an overhyped and agonizingly painful game against the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. PT.
Both teams are playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Lakers won against their Florida opponent, while the Hawks lost to their Sunshine state competition. Atlanta lost in Miami on Tuesday.
This season, the Hawks are a 19-11 team at home, which is not all that impressive. Even the Lakers have a better home record than the Hawks, and Los Angeles dropped several easy games at home this season.
The Lakers have a legitimate chance at claiming their first back-to-back sweep of the season, and they strut into the Philips Arena in Atlanta on a four-game winning streak. Following the All-Star break, the Lakers have turned a corner and won nine of 11 games.
The success of the past 11 games helped the Lakers achieve a 34-31 record on the season, and they hold the final Western Conference playoffs spot entering Wednesday’s game in Atlanta. Incidentally, Atlanta is Dwight Howard’s hometown, so the back-to-back set in Orlando and Atlanta is a nostalgic experience for the 27-year-old.
When discussing the star center, it bears mentioning that Howard tied his own NBA free throw record of 39 free throw attempts in a game on Tuesday night. Orlando employed the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy, but the notoriously poor free throw shooter made 16 of the 20 free throws when intentionally forced to the foul line.
Overall, Howard finished with 39 points (25 made free throws), 16 rebounds, and three blocks against the Magic. The widely heralded return to Orlando was hardly worth the hoopla, but at least Howard made his free throws. His confidence at the foul line may serve the Lakers well the next time an opposing coach attempts to fluster the Lakers with the "Hack-a-Howard."
The Hawks have lost six of their last seven games, and a hot Lakers team is hoping to march through Atlanta and move on to Indiana on Friday. If Howard keeps making his free throws, the Lakers may not lose another game this season—let alone to a struggling Hawks team that is growing more accustomed to losing by the game.
P.S. These two teams met only 10 days earlier, and Kobe Bryant threw down an emphatic dunk over Josh Smith that made headlines.