With postseason positioning on the line, the Los Angeles Lakers will travel to play their inter-conference foes, the Atlanta Hawks. Although their positions in their respective standings are similar, this is a tale of two teams headed in different directions.
So who will emerge with a much-needed win?
The Lakers have won 17 of their past 23 games and are now three games above .500 for the first time this season. They're 34-31 overall, 12-20 on the road and 16-10 against the Eastern Conference.
They've won four in a row.
As for the Hawks, they have lost three in a row and six of their past seven. They're 34-29 overall, 19-11 at home and 13-12 against the West.
So how is this all going down?
Time: Wednesday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: TWC SportsNet and TSOH
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (34-31, 12-20 road) at Atlanta Hawks (34-29, 19-11 home)
Betting Line: Lakers (+1.5) at (Hawks (-1)
Los Angeles Lakers Injury Report
Pau Gasol, Torn Plantar Fascia, Out
Jordan Hill, Hip Surgery, Out
Atlanta Hawks Injury Report
Zaza Pachulia, Sore Achilles, Doubtful
Lou Williams, Torn ACL, Out
Key Storyline: Another Homecoming for D-12
This time around, it will be his hometown of Atlanta as the Lakers take on the Hawks.
For his career, Howard is averaging 17.7 points and 14.8 rebounds against his hometown team. In his first game against the Hawks in 2012-13, however, Howard scored just 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
So how will he fare this time around?
That will be the question that determines the outcome in this one. Matched up against an elite frontcourt pairing of Josh Smith and Al Horford, the Lakers will need Howard to act as a virtual counterpunch.
Key Matchup: Steve Nash vs. Jeff Teague
When it comes to the stars, we're likely to be focused on the tandems of Josh Smith and Al Horford against Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. In terms of the outcome, however, this one will be decided at the point.
Steve Nash and Jeff Teague will be responsible for that.
Nash has become more of an off-guard than a point guard in recent weeks. Fortunately, the 39-year-old is one of the greatest jump shooters in the history of the NBA.
A season slash line of .508/.440/.906 proves he hasn't lost that touch.
With that being said, Teague is hardly an easy task for Nash to handle. Not only is Teague one of the better defenders at the position, but he's averaging 14.6 points and 7.8 assists in 2012-13.
Whichever player wins this positional battle may just win the game.
X-Factor: Earl Clark, Los Angeles Lakers
Since Jan. 27, the Los Angeles Lakers are 10-2 when Earl Clark scores in double figures. They're 5-4 when Clark fails to top 10 points.
Even as the Lakers have caught fire in recent weeks, it is imperative that Clark breaks out of his recent funk and begins to score again.
The truth of the matter is, points aren't the type of production that L.A. needs from Clark. Instead, they benefit most when the former Louisville Cardinal attacks the glass and runs in transition.
With 10 double-doubles since first getting his shot on Jan. 8, it's clear that the explosive big man is capable of continuing to make a contribution.
Matched up against Atlanta's Josh Smith, Clark will be needed. Antawn Jamison is thriving in spacing the floor, but he is not nearly the athlete capable of containing Smith on either end.
If Clark can keep Smith out of the paint defensively, the Lakers could find it easier driving the lane. If he's able to run with Smith in transition, the Lakers could eliminate an entire facet of Atlanta's offense.
There's no question about this one—Clark is the X-factor.
When the Atlanta Hawks host the Los Angeles Lakers, both teams will be on the latter end of a back-to-back. Atlanta will come home after traveling to play the Miami Heat, while L.A. will hit the road once again after visiting Orlando.
For that reason, the fatigue factor is irrelevant.
As we dig deeper, the Hawks are just 13-12 against the Western Conference. They're also 7-6 on the back end of consecutive games and have lost five of their past seven of the sort.
Therefore, no team has a true advantage in terms of anything other than what transpires on the court.
For that reason, we're inclined to believe that the Lakers will secure the W. Momentum plays a major role in that, as L.A. has won 17 of its past 23 games.
Atlanta has lost five of six.
Al Horford will keep it interesting, but the Lakers are on a roll. Dwight Howard will dominate the glass and Kobe Bryant will provide the supporting fire with another casual 20-plus-point outing.
Look for Earl Clark to have a re-breakout game.
Los Angeles Lakers 99, Atlanta Hawks 91