Lakers pound mistake prone Hawks 118-110

Los Angeles – Another big game and another big let down for the Hawks.

The Hawks lost their sixth straight game against one of the league's elite teams dating back to the playoffs last season, falling 118-110 to the world champion Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night at Staples Center.

Cleveland swept the injury-plagued Hawks out of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season and they were blown out in their preseason finale last month by reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando.

Sunday night's game against the Lakers was a chance for redemption, a chance to prove that their 2-0 start to this season wasn’t just a product of their ability to channel their energy and emotion in the right direction at Philips Arena.

Whatever swagger the Hawks packed for their trip west, however, disintegrated rapidly during a turnover-induced meltdown in the third quarter that sealed the their fate on this night, one that saw NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant smoke them for 41 points.

Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson didnt mince his words in the locker room afterwards, calling his team "soft" and questioning whether or not they are willing to do what it takes to compete against the best.

"I thought we were past this but I was wrong," said Johnson, who torched the Lakers for 18 points in the first nine minutes of the game and finished with a team-high 27. "We still complain too much. To be honest, we just didn't have the effort needed to do this right. If shots aren't falling we stand around. We think offense more than defense. And you're not going to win in this league like that."

Eight of their 20 turnovers came in that third quarter, when the Lakers' lead stretched from two points minutes after halftime to 22 points by the end of the quarter. The Hawks turnover tally for the night produced an early Christmas present for a stacked Lakers team that doesn’t need any more gifts. Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia shared in the fun, each of them committing two turnovers during that jaw-dropping stretch of frustration.

"Playing a great team like the Lakers, you can't give them opportunities like that," Horford said. "They're going to punish you. We have to focus on the defensive end. We have enough scorers that we're going to score the ball. We're a little too worried about our offense. If you look at any of the great teams that win championships, they do it with defense. If  we want to get on that level, we have to start worrying about our defense."

Hawks coach Mike Woodson was eager for his team to match up with the Lakers, to see how they might respond in a hostile environment and against the best of the best.

"This is a good time to play them because they're trying to fit pieces together just like we are," Woodson said before the game. "This is a goof time for us to be out on the road, and a great time to see what we're about as a basketball team. We have to come in and be ready so when they hit us we don’t go the other way."

But that's exactly what they did.

The Lakers turned up the pressure after halftime and the Hawks folded, bickering at each other on the bench during a timeout after one tense stretch in that third quarter turnover storm.

"That was just us policing each other," said Smith, who led the Hawks with five turnovers. "We were already down by 12 points and that's a time when we have to make sure everything we're doing is crisp. And we got careless with the basketball and that just opened the game up for them.  We're too sound offensively to play like that."

The Hawks didn't show any real fight until rookie point guard Jeff Teague came in for Mike Bibby in the fourth quarter. With Teague directing traffic the Hawks cut the Lakers' lead to 10 points, 112-102, with just over three minutes to play. He scored all 12 of his points in the fourth and had two steals and two assists.

But the Hawks couldn’t sustain the momentum the rookie provided, giving up back to back baskets and two free throws from Andrew Bynum as the Lakers pushed the lead to 118-102 with just over two minutes left in the game.

"I just tried to come in and be a spark," said Teague, whose dunk over Lamar Odom ranks as one of the Hawks few highlights in the second half. "It started on the defensive end and in transition. We had an opportunity to come back and make it a game. But they got some put backs and run outs and that hurt us. It's our first road test of the season and we hit that wall. And they came to play, they are the world champs. So we just have get over this and get ready for Portland on Tuesday."

Teague was one of just four Hawks to reach double figures on the night, along with Johnson, Bibby and Jamal Crawford (17) off the bench.

The Hawks didn't get similar production from the frontcourt. Smith, Horford and Marvin Williams weren’t a factor on the offensive end, combining to shoot 7-for-2 from the floor and grabbing 16 rebounds. They werent much better on defense, allowing the Lakers to have their way around the basket all night.

They didn’t come close to matching their combined production in wins over Indiana and Washington. And they certainly didn't come anywhere close to matching the output of their counterparts in the white uniforms. Lakers big man Andrew Bynum finished with 21 points, Lamar Odom 14 rebounds, 11 points and eight assists and Ron Artest 12 points and seven rebounds.

"So far that's been our first bit of adversity of the season," Crawford said. "We have to get better at handling it. And we'll get better, that's for sure. Keep in mind that they are the world champs. They've been in those tough situatuons a million times. I'm sure they didnt handle it as well the first time like they do now. We just have to contiunue to get better and continue to hang in there for each other. "