Game Preview & Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  January 9, 2008

Records: Lakers 22-11; Hornets 23-11
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Hornets 109.4 (11th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th); Hornets 104.1 (4th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: Last night was a reminder of just what a big improvement the Lakers have a point guard this year. Mike Conley is a good young guard — he was still able to get to the rack with Fisher playing five feet off him, Conley just couldn’t finish consistently — but Fisher was the savvy veteran who took him to school.

And, this was another “quiet” night from Odom where he still had 10 points and 15 boards. To me, the key is, with the emergence of Bynum and steady play out top from Fisher, the ups and downs of Odom’s game don’t impact the team as much any more.

On a different topic, did a big two-part interview with Mitch Kupchak, and I thought a couple comments he made deserved note:

On the bench’s struggles of late: The NBA season is ebbs & flows and NBA teams will take note of a bench that is effective and make adjustments as the season goes on. Just like a player that starts out great going to his right, the second time around they’re going to take away his right and make him go to his left. Our bench is going to have to make adjustments because they’ve made some notoriety for themselves and there will be more pressure for them to perform. Now it’s up to them to make an adjustment and continue to provide us with a boost off the bench.

On the team getting more lay-ups and fewer jumpers from their guards:
I know our coach has made a point of having a so-called secondary break, which means that if there’s not an official fast-break, we do have a secondary break where he allows the players to freelance before getting into the triangle. A lot of times a player will react to the freedom of getting out and running, cutting, and being more innovative which might lead to more lay-ups.

Typically out of a set offense with the clock running down you’re probably going to end up with jump shots. A higher percentage shot would normally come in a break of secondary break situation and that is something that our coach’s worked on this year versus last year.

On Coby and Javaris: Coby’s been sent down to the D-League, incidentally that’s something that we might do with Javaris—we’ll evaluate that as the season progresses, perhaps by the end of January we’ll have a better feel.

The Hornets Coming In: They are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and are linked in headlines nationwide with the Lakers as the “surprise” teams of the NBA this season. So what is going on in The Big Easy? We asked the guys from At The Hive:

Chris Paul has improved his shooting this season, both inside and outside the arc. The stats say he’s shooting 10% more jumpers and hitting a higher percentage of them (up to 48.5% this season). What is he doing with his game to create shots for himself?

While the numbers do indicate that he’s taking a significantly higher portion of his shots on jumpers, I really don’t think he’s been “looking” for his own shot. The reason I say that is his “assisted on” numbers for jump shots have stayed virtually constant (20% last year, 19% this year). To me, those numbers indicate he’s taking a lot more shots in the rhythm of the offense. To answer your question, Peja and Mo-Pete have done a lot to create jump shots for Paul simply by standing out on the wings.

I’d say the main reason his eFG% is up is because he’s wide open so often. Teams are saying “go ahead and knock down that 20 footer; we’re guarding the drive.”

The biggest change this year is how much improved the Hornets defense is compared to the last couple years. What is different?

I can talk all I want about how CP’s so awesome at driving, West hits jumpers, this, that. But I’d be kidding myself if I said defense isn’t the reason this team has played so well. For starters, Mo-Pete has made a very underrated contribution as a one-on-one defender since coming over from Toronto. As much as people may make fun of Peja’s defense (myself included), there’s an undeniable level of difficulty added to a shot when you’re firing over a 6’10” SF. Of course, he wouldn’t even be able to guard the a driving Manute Bol, but David West and Tyson Chandler are very physical help defenders. Quieting LeBron was a real test for this team, but they were up to the task. Of course, there will be two huge challenges this week in Kobe and D-Wade.

Last year it seemed like Chris Paul against the world, although David West was always solid. This year Peja and Tyson Chandler are healthy and contributing points. How has that changed the team on offense?

This one can be answered sort of anecdotally. The impact those guys have had can be illustrated by a single play the Hornets seem to obsessed with: the high screen and roll. In fact, I’m willing to bet the Hornets go to the high screen at least 5-6 times versus the Lakers; it’s basically become the go-to play. The unique thing about this play is that any of the five guys on the court can score. Normally, it’s set on the left wing, and Chris Paul will drive hard to his right (toward the hoop). If the center helps the point guard with Paul, he’ll throw the alley-oop. If the SF or SG come to help, Peja or Mo-Pete can get off a three. David West is usually the last option on this play. Last year, when they ran the high screen and roll, the SF and SG could cheat off their men to guard the CP drive. And of course, if nobody comes to help, Paul has a lay-up.

So Much Good Reading: Lots of good things I just wanted to link to today.

First off, Kelly Dwyer over at Yahoo asks why it’s only the bloggers that seem to talk about defense? And sure, I linked to a story that quotes me, but KD’s work there has fast made this one of my favorite stops on the NBA Web. You need to read his stuff.

The always-insightful Bethlehem Shoals posts about the NBA’s up-and-comers (including the Lakers) over at Deadspin. And another of my favorites, Harlan at Hoops Analyst, also has a good look at the NBA surprises (although he thinks the Lakers defensive turnaround has less to do with everything than I do). Hoops Analyst was one of the first NBA blogs I read, and I still read everything there.

Last Time These Two Met: It was just the fourth game of the season and it was a real stinker for the Lakers, who lost 118-104. The Lakers were all geared to stop Paul (who, as Henry at True Hoop noted yesterday, may be the fastest player from high pick to lay-up in the league), so the Lakers collapsed on him when he got in the lane. Paul kicked out to a wide open Peja Stojakovic, who hit 10 of 13 threes on the night and finished with 36. David West chipped in 22.

Keys To The Game:My thoughts watching that first game was that the Lakers needed to take the “Steve Nash” approach — make Chris Paul the shooter. Yes, he can shoot, yes, he will have a big night. But, while Paul is shooting 51.2% (eFG%) on the season that is a lower percentage than a Tyson Chandler dunk or letting Peja have open shots from three again.

The Hornets are a slower version of the Suns (NO is averaging 8 fewer possessions a game than the Lakers) — the offense is predicated on letting a great point guard create. That happens in transition screen and rolls (Chandler gets his points on that roll). David West and Peja spot up around this and hit the kick out shots. Also, Paul gets a lot of steals that leads to easy buckets the other way, Fisher and Farmar need to take care of the ball.

This is going to be a key game for Bynum and Kwame, they have to stop Paul’s penetration (no PG in the league is fast enough to do that alone) and the bigs need to do it because you can’t leave the shooters on the wings.

Also, the one big weakness for the Hornets is the bench — the Lakers bench needs to shine tonight if LA is going to get the win.

Tonight’s Game: Where Jambalaya Happens: Second game of a back-to-back on the road against a quality team that matches up well with you (quick PGs give the Lakers fits) is never a good situation. The good news is that all the Lakers starters, save Kobe, rested the fourth quarter last night.

I look for a close game this time around, the question is how much the Lakers have in the tank at the end.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9).