Blog Entry

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

Posted on: April 15, 2011 2:32 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:37 am
A preview of the first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.


I. Intro: No. 7 seed New Orleans Hornets (46-36) vs. No. 2 seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)

The difference between the two teams in this series is simple. The Los Angeles Lakers think they have it bad. The New Orleans Hornets actually do have it bad. 

The Lakers enter the postseason just 2-5 in their last seven games, they lost a backup point guard to chicken pox and nearly lost their starting center to yet another knee injury. Only a Kobe Bryant last-second three-pointer on Wednesday night saved the Lakers from slipping to the West’s No. 3 seed and a much tougher series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets, though, actually do have it bad. After beginning the season 11-1, the Hornets have played exactly .500 ball (35-35) since late-November. They’ve lost their best interior player, David West, to a season-ending knee injury and their franchise point guard, Chris Paul, has dealt with fluid in his surgically repaired knee, closing the season averaging just 7.3 points per game and shooting 31% from the field in the team’s last four games.

One team's problems are clearly much weightier.

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

It’s fair to say that the two-time defending champs dismantled the Hornets during their regular season match-ups, sweeping all four games. The Lakers averaged 101.8 points per game in the victories while holding the Hornets to just 91.0 points per game, making for a colossal 10.8 point average margin of victory. All four wins came since the end of December so they are fairly representative. 

Remarkably, the Lakers have shot poorly from deep – just 29.7% as a team – and yet still managed to shoot 51.0% overall from the field, a testament to how many easy buckets they've generated thanks to the interior advantage LA’s big men possess over the short-handed and undersized Hornets front line. Meanwhile, New Orleans has shot just 43.7% from the floor and really struggled from deep in three of the four meetings. Nothing came easy for the Hornets even though they did a decent job of taking care of the basketball. Add all of those numbers and it just screams "blatant talent disparity."

III. The Easy Stuff: The Laker bigs are overwhelming

First: credit where credit is due. New Orleans’ two best big healthy big men – Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry – have both fared pretty well against the Lakers this season. Okafor slapped up averages of 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while Landry added 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Combined, that’s pretty solid production for a team that’s lacking a go-to inside scorer now that West is done for the season. 

But LA’s three-headed monster of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom makes those numbers look puny by comparison. Together, the trio has averaged an eye-popping 51.8 points and 25.6 rebounds per game against the Hornets this year. Really, that's enough said. Gasol, in particular, has been a tough cover for the Hornets, as he’s put up 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game by himself and figures to be the most difficult match-up for New Orleans given his length, versatility, mobility and skill. The only thing that could possibly stop Gasol in this series is if his teammates forget to pass him the ball.

IV. Secret of the Series: The Lakers need to show up

Los Angeles has every motivation to make quick work of the Hornets as a second round series against either the Dallas Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers is looming. It’s quite possible that LA could get a significant amount of rest given that Dallas/Portland will likely go six or seven games. Late-season motivation has been a problem recently, as coach Phil Jackson has called out his team’s professionalism and the Lakers nearly blew a 20+ point lead against the Kings on the final night of the season, despite playoff implications being on the line. 

Ultimately, the responsibility for showing up falls to Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Not only is that pair familiar with winning, they’re familiar with the boredom that comes from winning often. They also know where the light switch is located. Expect them to flip it sooner rather than later.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Andrew Bynum’s knee injury could be a game-changer"

That particular line of thinking is old and familiar, due to Bynum’s lengthy injury history, but it’s also a bit too early. Against the Hornets, the Lakers could likely win without him, shifting to a smaller lineup that would still possess a talent advantage at virtually every position. At the top of the list of reasons that New Orleans is an ideal match-up for Los Angeles is that Jackson should be able to manage Bynum’s minutes with ease, ensuring he’s fully ready for potential later round match-ups with guys like Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby or Tim Duncan

Bynum is only said to have a bone bruise, anyway, but it's worth monitoring his progress and playing time in this New Orleans series.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Hornets have one match-up advantage, and it’s a massive one. Even though he’s not playing at the top of his game, Chris Paul is a nightmare cover for any team, especially one who will rely on Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown to play more minutes than usual in Steve Blake’s indefinite absence due to chicken pox. Advantage Hornets.

SG: Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the game and Marco Belinelli is not. No further discussion necessary. Advantage Lakers.

SF: LA’s small forward of the past, Trevor Ariza, faces off against LA’s small forward of the present, Ron Artest. Ariza has better numbers on the season but Artest and all of his antics and physicality will surely make his life miserable. Call this one a push.

PF: As documented above, Pau Gasol against Carl Landry is likely to get ugly in a hurry. Big advantage Lakers.  

C: Okafor’s individual numbers against the Lakers are better than Bynum’s individual numbers against the Hornets, but Gasol will spend time at the five to clear minutes for Lamar Odom off the bench. Even a Herculean performance from Okafor won’t help the Hornets keep pace here. Advantage Lakers.

Bench: Odom, a sixth man of the year candidate, plus Brown, an athletic tempo-changer are better than New Orleans’ bench, which is essentially a scrap heap up front with Wilie Green and Jarrett Jack capable of making some noise in the backcourt. Advantage Lakers.

Coach: Phil Jackson has won 11 titles as a head coach and has won 225 playoff games. Monty Williams, as talented and respected a rookie head coach as you’ll find in the NBA, has won zero playoff games as a head coach. Williams deserves some love for Coach of the Year and could become a mainstay on the sidelines for decades, but the two men don’t belong in the same sentence right now. Advantage Lakers.

VII. Conclusion

Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Kings away in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in 4.

VIII. Video Preview

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will look to defend their title as they take on Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets in this round 1 playoff matchup. Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this upcoming matchup.



Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: April 17, 2011 7:09 pm

In retrospect: When is a sweep not a sweep?

Too damn funny.  Lakers, Lakers, Lakers.  Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.  That's all we ever hear.  But, the only team that can still keep their brooms handy in this series is the Hornets.  There's a simple solution to beating the Lakers:  Make Kobe shoot.  When Kobe shoots and the rest of the team stands around as spectators, the other teams always stay close.  Kobe took 26 shots in Game 1; no other Laker took more than nine. The Hornets offensive plan pulled Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol away from the rim and neutralized their length and size.  If it wasn't for the fact that the Hornets at one time were 8-17 from the FT line, this game would have been a blowout.  Also, before you laugh at the "make Kobe shoot" comment, pay attention to the fact that it doesn't say "LET Kobe shoot".  You still need to contest the shots.  But  everyone still seems to forget, this is a T E A M game.  And anytime your team becomes one dimensional, whether its player or game plan, its a recipe for disaster.

Since: Jul 21, 2007
Posted on: April 16, 2011 11:41 am

Amazing article ...

in that it took you way too many words to state the obvious -- Lakers in a whitewash. Next?

Since: Jun 19, 2007
Posted on: April 16, 2011 10:29 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

Good preview of this series overall.  The defending champs have the talent to sweep New Orleans but due to their recent injuries the depth is a concern.  If Bynum does play, it will be limited to less than 20 minutes a game to preserbve him for later rounds.    I don't believe the Hornets have a chance of winning this series but I do believe they will take one game and possibly even push the Lakers to a six-game series.  As we all have seen, sometimes the Lakers just don't show the desire unless put into a corner and a slight panic.  That being said, as a Lakers fan, I look forward to watching this years playoffs as L.A. tries to equal Boston with its 17th NBA Championship.

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: April 16, 2011 10:21 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

Without West, the Hornets have no chance at competing with the Lakers. Let alone winning. Should be a breeze series for he Lakers. A chance to get revved up for the Mavs. The Lakers have a pretty easy road through the West. The Spurs having a higher seed actually have it rougher with Oklahoma City in their bracket. Thats the team I wouldn't want to face. The Thunder are the scariest opponent for the Lakers in the west.

Since: Oct 20, 2009
Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:39 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

Lakers frontcourt vs NO backcourt and there's no way Chris Paul can compete with their frontcourt.

Since: Sep 23, 2008
Posted on: April 16, 2011 1:00 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

Yeah...another Lakers story! PUKE!

Since: Dec 22, 2009
Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:22 pm

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish


Since: Dec 31, 2006
Posted on: April 15, 2011 9:48 pm

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

The Hornets have the talent to take the Lakers to six games...Don't be surprised if that's exactly what happens...Los Angeles will be too worried about getting by their next opponent and will forget that New Orleans does bring talent to the floor....This year is also a bit of an aberration in the Lakers-Hornets rivalry...Usually, the Hornets get one quality win on the Lakers, and they haven't had it yet...

Since: Apr 14, 2011
Posted on: April 15, 2011 9:31 pm

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

This is a four game sweep.  Anything else is just needless concern.  The Hornets are intimidated by the Lakers and with every game this season, the Hornets turtled up and .rolled over against the LAL.  The Hornets are done and they stink.    I guarantee when the Hornets take the floor and stare into the "Lakers" script on the LAL jersey, they will go fetal and cry themselves to sleep.  It's over.  This series is a complete waste of time. The real season begins in round two.  Maybe.

Since: Aug 25, 2009
Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:58 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

A pretty fair review for the most part. However, I echo the previous commenter - I also do not believe it will be a sweep. The Lakers certainly are capable, but this team has well-documented issues with focus and Chris Paul is enough to win a single game. If I had to pick a game, I would expect LA to lose one of the early games in LA when they fail to show up and everything goes right for New Orleans. 

However, the major part of this analysis is correct - the Hornets simply do not possess the length and skill that the Lakers can throw at them. And without West, the frontline is a real mismatch in favor of LA. In the front court, LA has more consistent scoring with Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol than New Orleans can provide with Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. If Andrew Bynum plays, that advantage increases. Landry is a dynamic scorer, but Gasol is more reliable around the basket and Bynum can really be a came-changer on the defensive end. Okafor is a very solid player, but h is not the scorer that Gasol is. If Bynum doesn't play, then I would say the Lakers have a slight advantage up front - Okafor is a good defender and rebounder and Landry is an excellent scorer. If Bynum does play, then big advantage for LA. At the samll forward, Trevor Ariza can be a real threat, but I think that Ron Artest will overpower him and make him less effective. Although I do think that Ariza will also be able to bother Artest as well. 

In the backcourt, it is really a Kobe Bryant versus Chris Paul matchup. Marco Bellinelli might get hot for one game (and I think he will) but Kobe will probably outscore Paul. Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown are total wild-cards for the Lakers. I'd feel a lot better about this if Blake was available. He has not shot the ball well, but he has been steady. Either is capable of getting hot, but neither is a consistent scoring threat, although Brown's three-point shooting has really improved this season. For the Hornets,  there really isn't much behind Paul, although Jarrett Jack is a solid player who has given LA trouble in the past. 

But in the end, the Lakers simply have too much depth and too much talent. Once they get focused, the Hornets simply don't match up very well with LA. As previously stated, I do think that New orleans will win one game, but that is probably it. And a sweep would not surprise me. Lakers in five.

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