Preview: Lakers vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Lakers defeated the Hawks in November, but that was before a season-ending injury to Kobe Bryant

The Lakers (17-47) host the best team in the Eastern Conference on Sunday night at Staples Center, the 51-14 Atlanta Hawks.

In mid-November, the Lakers upset the Hawks in Atlanta, 114-109, behind 28 points from Kobe Bryant, and double-doubles from Carlos Boozer (20 points and 10 rebounds), Jordan Hill (18 and 10) and Jeremy Lin (15 points and 10 assists).

The Hawks later reeled off 19 straight wins, eventually climbing to first place in the East.

The Lakers lost Bryant to a shoulder injury, plummeting to near the bottom of the standings.

On Sunday, Atlanta will play without Mike Scott (toe) and Thabo Sefolosha (calf).

For the Lakers, Nick Young is sidelined with a knee injury while Ronnie Price (elbow), Julius Randle (knee), Steve Nash (back) and Bryant are all done for the season.

Key matchup

The Hawks embody the concept of team. If there's a player the Lakers need to slow, it's point guard Jeff Teague.

Teague is at 6.5 points and 7.2 assists a game, while shooting 46.3% from the field.

He'll be an interesting test for Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson.

While he's had some big games this season, notably his recent career-high of 25 points against the Memphis Grizzlies, Clarkson has shot just four for 12 from the field (33.3%) during the Lakers' past two games.

The Lakers need Clarkson back on track, but Lin is certainly a big-minute option off the bench given how well he played the last time the team took on the Hawks.

X-factor

Rookie Tarik Black is expected to start at center next to Hill.  Both Hill and Boozer gave the Hawks issues in the first meeting.  Boozer could spell Black quickly if the Lakers are struggling.

Atlanta has a dangerous frontcourt with Paul Millsap (16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds) and Al Horford (15.2 and 7.5).

The Lakers also need to be mindful of Kyle Korver, who may be the best shooter in the NBA.

Outlook

The Hawks certainly won't take the Lakers lightly.

Expect a competitive game, but with the Hawks now evolved into a contender, they should be able to exact revenge on the Lakers.

Email Eric Pincus at Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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