The Los Angeles Lakers hope to have LeBron James back in the lineup as they seek a second win over the Atlanta Hawks in eight days when the clubs meet in in Southern California on Friday night.
James celebrated his 38th birthday on Dec. 30 in Atlanta with a season-high 47 points in a 130-121 Lakers win.
Not satisfied, the 18-time All-Star had his second-biggest scoring night of the year, a 43-pointer, in a 121-115 win at Charlotte three nights later.
In the process, he became the first 38-year-old since Michael Jordan to score 40 or more in consecutive games.
James’ bid for a 40-plus hat trick was put on hold by what Lakers coach Darvin Ham labeled a “common cold” Wednesday, but that didn’t prevent Los Angeles from tying a season high with its third straight win, 112-109 over the visiting Miami Heat.
Dennis Schroder came up big in James’ absence, putting up 32 points. Supporting-cast members Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves and Wenyen Gabriel combined for 42 points, prompting Ham to suggest afterward that sometimes having to go without James and Anthony Davis can be beneficial.
“I just think different guys are settling into their roles, getting more comfortable with more reps, more minutes,” he observed. “When we do get our big dogs back, it just makes us that much stronger, that much deeper, because now guys have confidence. They have the ultimate confidence because they’ve gotten the reps.”
Bryant also had a big night in the win at Atlanta when he was the game’s leading rebounder with 17 to complement 19 points in James’ shadow.
The Hawks countered with a balanced attack that featured six players in double figures, led by Trae Young with 29.
Atlanta has since gone on the road, and easily could be 2-0 on a Western swing if not for a game-tying 3-pointer by Klay Thompson — which the NBA later said should have been waved off for traveling — at the end of the first extra session of Golden State’s 143-141 double-overtime win Monday. Again, six Hawks reached double figures in points, all with at least 16.
Five went for 17 or more two nights later when the Hawks finally pulled out a close one, winning 120-117 at Sacramento. John Collins had his second consecutive double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds following a 25-point, 13-point night in San Francisco.
Dejounte Murray, whose late steal secured the win at Sacramento to end a four-game losing streak, insisted afterward that the Hawks are “going in the right direction.”
“It’s been a long week,” he noted. “This is the NBA. It’s a long season. You get to redeem yourself.”
The Hawks have done exactly that each of the last two seasons against the Lakers, losing the first game against Los Angeles before winning the second matchup.
Atlanta remains without starting center Clint Capela, out with a calf injury. Onyeka Okongwu has played admirably in his place, averaging 14.8 points and 10 rebounds in his last four starts.
–Field Level Media