Preview and Chat: New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  March 14, 2008

Records: Lakers 45-19 (1 seed); Hornets 43-20 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113 (3rd); Hornets 112.8 (8th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106 (5th); Hornets 106.7 (7th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: We’ve been talking about it for a while — have the Lakers been winning of late in spite of their play on defense? We’ll find out in the next four games, that’s for sure. Look at these records — the Lakers are 1.5 games ahead of the Hornets but four seeds higher. The Lakers need a solid road trip.

Recently LA Times reported that the Lakers were looking at Ira Newble as a guy who might provide some defensive depth in the playoffs. So, what kind of defender is Newble? I went to the source and asked Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Ira was guarding bigger power forwards for much of the season, but I thought he played well with the Cavs. He’s in great shape, maybe the best of his career, and he’s got good length. He would totally be a matchup player at this point.

One little off the court note, Sunday’s game against the Rockets is now a 12:30 start and will be on ABC nationally.

A few links: Good on ya, Lance Allred.

I think the injury killed any chance of him winning the award, but the Empty the Bench puts Andrew Bynum on its list of most improved players.

If you want a Lakers desktop for your computer, here is where you go.

The Hornets Coming In: If you were wondering if the Hornets are for real, they made quite a statement crushing the Spurs two nights ago. The reasons for the questions in the first place is the Hornets have not looked like the early-season juggernaut of late, so we asked Ryan from Hornets24/7 a few questions to gain some insight (I answered a few on his site as well).

1) Since the Lakers last played the Hornets, the team’s defense has fallen from 4th in the league to 7th, giving up 3 more points per 100 possessions. What has changed to cause this? Has the offense largely been able to offset this.

There are two primary reasons for our defense falling off to its current level. First, the schedule the first two months of the season was incredibly soft, allowing the Hornets to shut down weak teams. Second, the Hornets became victims of their own success. They had a nine game win streak in January where everything was clicking. Their defense started tight, and their offense was as fluid as I’ve ever seen it. But as the streak went on, the defense relaxed, while the offense continued to flow. Then, as should be expected, the offense sputtered, and the defense wasn’t there anymore. Since then, the Hornets have slowly been getting their defense back on track again, but they have been playing a much tougher schedule, making it hard to regain the form they once had. All in all – I’d say the current ranking is probably much more accurate than the previous one. I’m not convinced the Hornets have a top 5 defense.

2) We’ve had no sightings of The Birdman yet. When will that happen, and what do the Hornets expect from him?

There are a couple things in play here. First, I’m not convinced bringing Birdman in was really Byron Scott’s preference. People forget this, but Birdman was in Byron’s doghouse in the month prior to him being banned from the league, and he just wasn’t producing anything like what he had produced the year before. Andersen was brought in for two reasons: He’s close with Chad Shinn, the Executive Officer of the Board for the Hornets(and son of the owner), and the poor play of our back up big men. He’s going to have to work even harder to get Byron to put him on the floor, because he has to prove he’s better than remembered, and get past the fact he may have been forced on Byron. That said, I will give Byron credit for his rotations. Ely and Armstrong have played very badly, and his method is to let a player play for a couple weeks. If they play terribly, he benches them and tries the next guy. Andersen will get his shot – even if it takes until the end of March for it to happen.

As for what the Hornets expect from him – all we want him to do is play 13-14 solid minutes as Chandler’s backup. That means finish lobs, rebound, and play interior defense. He is absolutely capable of that. When I analyzed his numbers it was evident that if he came back at 75% of what he was even in the year he wasn’t playing so hot, he’s still going to be an improvement over our current backups.

3) Frankly, nobody in LA is going to buy it, but give us your best pitch for why CP3 should be MVP. What has he done to step up his and the team’s performance this season.

I know Kobe or LeBron are going to win the thing. I’m fine with that, though I think CP3 has as good a claim as either of them. I’ll start by presenting his candidacy in terms of the arguments being presented for LeBron and Kobe. In a nutshell, the argument for LeBron is that his stats are the best of any player in the league, and that his supporting cast sucks and he has to do it all for his team. The arguments I see for Kobe are that his stats aren’t that far below LeBron’s and his team is having much greater success. As I see it, Paul actually falls in between the two players. Most stats analysis sites rank Paul above Kobe and lower than LeBron. Arguably, Paul has worse teammates than Kobe, and better teammates than LeBron, but the Hornets are only 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers. Essentially, he’s got the 2nd best stats of the three, and the 2nd best team success of the three, while the other two guys have a 1st and 3rd each.

His impact on his team as a whole is also on par with either. Purely on an offensive level, James is statistically responsible for 47% of his team’s production.(31 points, 7.5 assists for 46 total points out of 97 points per game) Bryant is responsible for 36%(28 points, 5.3 assists for 39 of his teams 108 points per game). Paul is responsible for 43%(21 points, 11 assists, for 43 out his teams 100 points a game) Paul does that in less minutes and with better shooting percentages than either of the other two. As an added point, despite being the primary ballhandler for the Hornets, he also garners more steals than he produces turnovers(2.7 to 2.5) – and he doesn’t do it by gambling very much. Mostly he just sticks his hand in and picks his cover clean – or intercepts the ball in the open court.

Lastly, Paul is the heart and soul of his team. He runs it, he leads it, and all the guys look and listen while he’s talking. He gets on his guys relentlessly, will correct anyone, and is as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever seen. And he’s a mean bastard. When a team puts someone on him with instructions to bump and push him, he gets downright nasty. Bruce Bowen has already been on the wrong side of altercations with him twice. Paul smacked him in the face by “accident” two games ago when Bowen was poking and slapping at him too much, and last game, Bowen ended up kneeing him during a loose ball scramble, but he was responding to Paul starting the whole tiff by sitting up and giving him a forearm shiver in the nads. The result both times? Paul got offensive fouls – and Bowen laid off of him for the rest of the games. For a generously listed 6’0″ guy, he knows how to protect himself.

4) What are the team’s and the fans playoff expectations for this season? Do they see themselves as contenders, or is this a year for learning what the playoffs are about?

The season started with the hope of reaching the playoffs as a 6th or 7th seed. Due to the Hornets success, however, it seems that the consensus is we may be contenders, and should reach the Western Conference Finals. I prefer to be more realistic. I’m thinking 2nd round, with a good showing there. Of course, being realistic allows me to glow should they get farther and still feel satisfied if they don’t.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers handled the Hornets fairly easily last meeting, and that’s because they gave Chris Paul the “Steve Nash Treatment” — let him score all he wants, just don’t let him set up his teammates. It worked, Paul had 32 points but just five assists and the Lakers cruised. Against San Antonio two nights ago Paul had 26 points and 17 assists — let him dish the ball like that and the Lakers lose.

As part of this, the Lakers need to play the pick-and-roll a lot better than they have the last couple of games. If Paul gets the kind of space to operate TJ Ford did this will be a long night for the Lakers.

The Gasol/Chandler matchup should be a good one, but I think it would be smart to use Gasol more away from the basket and pull Chandler out as well. For the Hornets, David West played very well against the Spurs and Odom is going to have to focus on the defensive end tonight.

The Lakers bench needs to step up tonight, the Hornets will throw out solid guys like Bonzi Wells, Julian Wright and Melvin Ely. That group had a nice game against the Spurs although other reports have them struggling lately.

Where you can watch: The game is at 5 pm. (Pacific) on KCAL in LA and League Pass nationally.