On Tap: The New Orleans Hornets

 —  December 22, 2004

We know two things for sure heading into tonight’s game:

1) The Hornets are the worst team in the NBA, and very likely will be without their best player.

2) The Lakers can’t afford to look past anyone.

The Lakers are 2-0 against the Hornets this year and this will be the final meeting between the two this season (unfortunately). Last time around it was Chucky Atkins who sparked the win, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 13-point win. The other game between these two was the one where the Lakers led by 33 then fell apart, gave up 42 points in the fourth quarter and barely hung on for the win. While the Lakers have the two wins, neither were impressive games by the victors.

What has killed the Hornets this season is offensive inefficiency — they score just .95 points per possession while giving up 1.05 (for comparison, the Lakers score and give up 1.07 per possession). Look at that stat this way: with the Hornets averaging 89 possessions per game, that translates to 9 points given away. The Hornets have only one position where their PER is above the league average of 15, and that is center (15.6) where P.J. Brown has been solid. Brown also leads the non-injured players on the Hornets in Roland Rating with a +11.1.

Of course, all those offensive woes are in part because Baron Davis has been on the injured list since Nov. 17 (he came off last night but didn’t play) along with Jamaal Magloire and Jamal Mashburn. Coach, and former Laker, Byron Scott is in a chess match but without his queen or two knights and is forced to play with a bunch of pawns.

Offensively, the Lakers should be able to attack the Hornets effectively from all five spots on the floor (the Hornets oPER for every position is above the league average, except for shooting guard, but they can’t stop Kobe). The weakest link is at the four, so once again this is a game where Lamar Odom should be able to establish himself (he had 14 points and 14 rebounds last game against New Orleans). In the past several games the Lakers have tried to run plays to get Odom involved early, it was worked sometimes (Sacramento) and failed others (Memphis). We’ll see what happens tonight.

What I’d also like to see tonight is Chris Mihm getting key minutes in the fourth quarter, rather than seemingly being forgotten by Rudy T. While we’re at it, some good play from the bench would be nice, too.

The Lakers are 0-2 on this homestand and need an easy, confidence-building win before the media storm Saturday. They get the worst team in the NBA playing its second game in as many nights. This should — should — be an easy win, but after the last two games I’m not making any guarantees.