NBA Matchup: Atlanta Hawks @ Los Angeles Lakers

Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Lakers Tues. Feb. 22, 2011 10:30 p.m. EST

Before heading into the All-Star break, the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers were really struggling as they had lost the last three games of their road trip. Even though Kobe Bryant and company were able to get the best of the arch rival Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks in consecutive games, they just lost something when they lost to the Orlando Magic which carried over against the Charlotte Bobcats and the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.

Obviously, losing to the Magic is no big deal as they are very good team and happen to catch the Lakers fatigued and near the end of their road trip. The loss to the Bobcats was also not much of a surprise as the Lakers have a losing record all-time against Charlotte. For some reason, Kobe and company just struggled when they take on the Bobcats no matter how well Charlotte may be doing at that particular time.

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Ultimately, it was the loss to the Cavs in Cleveland that started to open a lot of people’s eyes. Not only had the Cavs just recently ended their historic losing streak by beating the Los Angeles Clippers, but they are considered to be the worst team in NBA right now with almost no hope for the future.

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant
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With this loss, the speculation that the two-time defending champs no longer have what it takes to compete for another title started to circulate around the league. Fortunately, the Lakers will have a chance to prove their doubters wrong once again as they will take on a very good Atlanta Hawks team on their home floor at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday night, the league will see what the Lakers have left as they will be tested against the likes of All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford. The Atlanta Hawks might not be considered to be amongst the elite in the Eastern Conference with the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, but they are close and are always a dangerous team.

This game will not only test the Lakers toughness in the paint, but also their ability to guard perimeter players like Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Josh Smith and Al Horford will cause some problems for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint, but the key matchup here will be Kobe Bryant on Joe Joe Johnson.

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There has been a lot of talk as of late that Kobe is no longer the best player in the league as the miles he has put on his legs have finally caught up with him, but after putting on a show in the 2011 NBA All-Star game last weekend, the Black Mamba showed that he still might have a few more seasons of dominance left.

As of right now, the Los Angeles Lakers are pretty heavily favored to come out on top in this one with a -8 point spread, but I believe this will be a fairly close game and taking the Atlanta Hawks at +8 would be the best bet.

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