The Los Angeles Lakers started the new year with an unblemished 2-0 record and looked to keep momentum rolling having won three consecutive games.
Forward LeBron James had 32 points, reaching the 30-point mark for the ninth time in 10 games, guard Malik Monk recorded a season-high 29 points, making seven three-pointers and the Lakers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 134-118 on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Los Angeles improved to 21-19 on the season, winning their fourth game in a row, while the Hawks fell to 17-21 with the loss.
The Lakers had five players finish in double figures and recorded a season-high 37 assists, shooting 49.5 percent from the floor. Guards Avery Bradley and Talen Horton-Tucker had 21 points apiece, forward Carmelo Anthony added 17.
“We’re getting our guys back,” said James. “It’s literally that simple. We’re starting to see what we have because guys are in the lineup. Soon we’re getting (Kendrick) Nunn as well, and not too long after that, AD returns. When you’re building a team with depth and chemistry on the floor, and when too many guys are out, it’s too early to gauge it.”
Guard Russell Westbrook was productive, falling just shy of another triple-double with nine points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists before fouling out with just under five minutes left in the game.
Defensively, the Lakers were all over the ball and had 14 steals on the night, leading to 24 fast break points on the other end. James had four of those steals and passed guard Alvin Robertson for 10th place on the all-time leaderboard in steals.
“We know that if we don’t beat ourselves, we can be tough to beat,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, as his team committed only eight turnovers on the night.
The 37-year-old also passed Michael Jordan to become the oldest player to have 10 straight 25-point games and scored 17 of his 32 points in the fourth to help put the game away for LA.
“His IQ is unbelievable,” Bradley said of James, who also added nine assists, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Guard Trae Young had 25 points and 14 assists, but was forced into difficult shots throughout the game, making only 8 of 21 attempts for Atlanta. Center John Collins scored 21 points in his return to the Hawks. Forward Kevin Huerter finished with 16.
“Just get the ball out his hands as quickly as possible,” said Monk on defending Young.
Bradley made two threes to start the game, followed by a James and-one layup that gave the Lakers a 11-6 lead. A Monk breakaway dunk stretched the lead to 13-6 three minutes into the first period.
Bradley had 13 of his 21 in the first quarter, making 5 of 6 shots. Monk had 21 through 24 minutes of play, making five threes and 8 of 10 shots while Los Angeles led 64-61 at halftime.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Atlanta interim coach Joe Prunty said. “Because in a game like tonight, you have a guy like Malik Monk and Avery Bradley who weren’t necessarily causing the problems, but they were getting the benefits. We need to be better defensively.”
Monk stayed in a rhythm to start the third, draining two more threes to give the Lakers a 73-61 advantage. However, the Hawks responded with an 8-0 run, cutting their deficit to four, 69-73 four minutes into the period.
“What we love about him is he can create and he’s a finisher,” Vogel said on Monks offensive ability.
Horton-Tucker stole the ball from Young minutes later and converted an and-one layup and a three-pointer to give Los Angeles a 12-point lead. Anthony then made a jumper and a three to stretch the Lakers lead to 101-84 with 8.2 seconds left in the third.
Monk put the game away in the fourth after intercepting a pass from Young to set up James for a breakaway thunderous dunk to go up 130-112 with 2:34 remaining in the period. Moments later, Monk provided a highlight-reel dunk of his own by crashing the offensive glass and immediately flushing it down to cap the Lakers’ fourth win in a row.
“Super momentum,” Monk said. “Everyone loves dunks.”
The Lakers will next host Memphis on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Los Angeles dropped its first three games against the fourth-seeded Grizzlies and look to avoid being swept in the regular season.
“I think it’s big in the sense that we want to continue to play good basketball,” James said.