ATLANTA — The Los Angeles Lakers kept up their winning ways Sunday, downing the Atlanta Hawks 101-96 to extend their road victory streak to 14 and improve their overall record to 24-3. But the night left Lakers coach Frank Vogel pointing to potential cracks in the foundation.
“We didn’t play a great game tonight,” Vogel said after his team coughed up a season-high 22 turnovers and shot just 5-for-31 on 3-pointers. “If we play that in the next two games, the way we did tonight, we’ll leave with a loss. It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, we want to have a growth mindset.”
The win kept L.A. tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the league’s best mark and those two games Vogel warned about includes a date with the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, in Milwaukee on Thursday. But first comes a showdown with an Indiana Pacers team that is 18-9 (11-3 at home) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday.
“I think after the game a lot of us (were) upset at how we came out and started the game, we allowed the Hawks to run the score up tonight,” Dwight Howard said, alluding to how Atlanta twice cut an eight-point fourth quarter lead for L.A. down to a one-possession game. “So we know we have to do better but we understand that there might be some games like this and we have to find other ways to win.”
There wasn’t a sense of alarm in the Lakers’ visiting locker room at State Farm Arena, but rather the feeling that they can and should play better.
“We understand that every game creates its own challenges,” LeBron James said. “And if we don’t come out with the mindset to try to win and execute the right way, we could be beat by anyone no matter what the record. Because we know when we play teams, no matter what their records are — above .500, below .500 — they’re going to give us their best shot and we got that tonight.”
James’ last point was echoed by several teammates.
“We knew this would be a big game for them, Super Bowl Sunday was kind of the mindset going into the game,” Lakers guard Rajon Rondo said. “We always know that we get everyone’s best punch. So tonight give them credit, they played well. But at the end of the day like I said it’s all about the W and that’s all we care about.”
Despite their dominant overall record, Sundays have been tough on the Lakers. Two of their three losses came on a Sunday and they avoided several other close calls like the Hawks game along the way.
It came a day after James flew to Ohio to see his son, Bronny James Jr.’s Sierra Canyon High School basketball team play against his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary. And James did his best to make up for any weariness from his trip or the Lakers’ Sunday woes by authoring a handful of high-energy plays on the court.
He pretended to block Rajon Rondo’s shot after Rondo looked him off on a lob opportunity on a fastbreak, he threw a no-look pass through his legs behind him to a trailing Dwight Howard for a dunk, he threw down several dunks of his own and also dialed in from long distance from 3, hitting a 27-footer and a 36-footer.
“It just keeps everybody engaged and just cheering for each other,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said of James’ efforts. “We love each other. We love being around each other on and off the court. It just feels good to be around these guys and the brotherhood we have.”
It wasn’t all pretty, but it was enough. Enough to get the win and enough to withstand a turned right ankle to Anthony Davis as well, which Davis played through.
“We’re resilient,” Davis said. “And we’re going to keep fighting. We won in multiple ways, we had blowouts, we have close games, and we always find a way to win, no matter how tough it is. It’s never easy to win on the road, no matter the other team’s record, but a win on the road is always tough, but we don’t take no teams for granted.”
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