For the first time in 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers are in the playoff picture.
Tuesday night’s win gave L.A. a half-game advantage over the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. It’s the first time all season that the Lakers are three games over .500.
Los Angeles picked up the victory in Dwight Howard’s first trip to Orlando since he was traded by the Magic in the offseason. The All-Star seemed to thrive on the negative reaction from fans, scoring 39 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.
After the win, the Lakers have little time to rest for their next opponent. They will travel to Howard’s hometown and visit the Atlanta Hawks for a 7:30 p.m. eastern-time start. Viewers can watch a live stream online by purchasing NBA League Pass Broadband.
Howard will look to continue his hot play against the Hawks. His 39 points came on just 13 field-goal attempts. Orlando looked to put Howard on the line in the second half, but the strategy failed, as he made 16 of his 20 free throw attempts in the third and fourth quarter.
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Even before Tuesday, Howard had been playing well. He’s averaging 19.3 points and 16 rebounds per game in March.
One of Howard’s close friends will look to put a stop to the Lakers four-game winning streak. Josh Smith played on the same AAU team as Howard when the two were younger, and has emerged as the Hawks’ best player. There were rumors that Smith would be dealt by the trade deadline, but Atlanta decided to keep the impending free agent.
Smith was a big part of the Hawks defeat to the Lakers earlier this month. Kobe Bryant completed a dunk with Smith in his face, towards the end of the game. The play gave L.A. a one-point lead with 2:10 remaining, and they went on to win 99-98.
Bryant led Los Angeles with 34 points in the win. He helped his team recover after blowing a 16-point lead in the second half.
The Lakers convincing win over the Magic have made them favorites against the 34-29 Hawks. They opened up as 2.5-point underdogs, but are now giving Atlanta a point on the road.
Prediction: Other than the Miami Heat, it might be hard to find a team that’s playing better than the Lakers. The Hawks on the other hand, have been on a downward spiral, losing six of their last seven. Atlanta has struggled against the better teams in the NBA, and Wednesday should be no different.
Predicted Score: Los Angeles 103, Atlanta 95