Records: Lakers 54-25 (2 seed); Hornets 55-23 (1 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.6 (3rd); Hornets 113.6 (5th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.2 (8th); Hornets 106.9 (5th)
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: After a shaky first 9 minutes (give or take) last night the Lakers played good defense, were efficient on offense and they cruised to a win. It was a good defensive effort by the Lakers, who after the first few minutes got smart and serious about defending Brand in the post, throwing a variety of looks and doubles at him. For the game the Clippers shot just 33% (eFG%) and had an offensive rating of 85.7. That said, Iâ€™m not sold that the Lakers have turned the corner on defense, tonight will be a much better test. Same with Sunday.
While tonight a back-to-back, it was the best kind possible â€” no travel and the starters got to rest during the fourth quarter.
Good to see Luke Walton back and put in a role where he could succeed against the Clippers. Look at his shot chart and you see he was back to hitting threes (4 of 5) but all his other points came in the paint right at the basket. He was back to playing smart and within the system. Hopefully that continues.
The Hornets Coming In: I donâ€™t need to tell you they are playing well, but to get a little more insight we asked the guys At The Hive a few questions:
1) Everyone talks about CP3 (with good reason), but what does the often-overlooked David West bring to the table? How does he blend with Paul and the other starters?
Many people talk about how Paul has single-handedly made west into an All-Star, but that is overstated. The most important thing West brings to the offense is the ability to score with Paul not involved at all. Obviously, that’s a rare occurrence, but it’s a necessity to keep Paul fresh. West brings an excellent back to the basket game every night, and that’s a skill that would translate well from team to team, regardless of point guard.
His ability to extend the floor (with the 17 footer) blends very well with Paul’s passing ability. Much of our offense is predicated on floor spacing- even small let-downs in floor spacing can be devastating, as Utah’s stomping of the Hornets attests to.
2) There seemed to be a defensive slump with the Hornets mid-season, but of late the good defense appears to be back. What has changed? What is the team doing right?
I’m not so sure we’re out of the woods yet. Our defensive efficiency has been on the up-climb, but this team still experiences odd lapses in intensity that we really didn’t see early in the season. The biggest problem has been the inability to prevent penetration. It’s one thing when guys like Deron Williams and Paul Pierce are getting to the paint, but players like Marko Jaric have been accomplishing it as well. The second biggest aspect of returning to old form will be closing out on shots. Some New Orleans players have shown an odd proclivity for lazy closes. Of course, I’m confident in Byron Scott’s ability to turn things around in time for the postseason.
3)The big playoff question is, will the Hornets be able to handle the heat in what will be a first playoff test as a team and for some key players. How do you think they will hold up? What teams are good and bad matchups for them in the deep Western Conference?
I’ve never bought into the playoff inexperience argument too much. If a team is good in the regular season, I like their chances in the playoffs, and vice versa. That said, defensive intensity will definitely be stepped up in the playoffs, and how far the Hornets go will be determined by how much they, in turn, can step it up. Again, I think Byron will have the guys up to the task.
As far as matchups… obviously I don’t want to see Utah for a while. They guard Chris Paul better than any team in the NBA right now, and match up well offensively against the Hornets. Los Angeles would rank second on that “don’t want to see” list, since the Lakers are so deep, and have so much size on their frontcourt. But as you said, there are no easy outs in the West. I had Dallas pegged as an easy first round opponent as recently as a week ago, but now look at them. Ditto for Phoenix. This might sound odd, but I wouldn’t mind a matchup with San Antonio. We’ve defeated them by 24 and 25 this year, and even though history says they turn it up a notch in the postseason, I still like our chances against them.
Keys To The Game: While all the hype is the â€œKobe vs. Paul for MVPâ€ tonight, Kobe cannot let his passion and ego get in the way of a team game. If in the second quarter this becomes The Kobe Show he will put up 50 and the Lakers will lose.
For the Lakers to win they have to be focused on defense â€” and that starts with stopping Chris Paulâ€™s penetration. The Hornets love them some high pick and roll and Paul with his quickness (and mastery at changing speeds) gets into the lane a lot. The Lakers bigs are going to have to be active on those screens, the Lakers need to throw a variety of looks at Paul and when he does get into the lane the rotations need to quick and the right one. Peja and Peterson love the corner three and go there, the Lakers cannot double Paul off them.
On offense, Iâ€™d like to see the Lakers use Gasol out on the wing to draw Chandler out of the paint. Whoever gets Peja on him (probably Radmanovic, at times maybe Odom) the Lakers should post up.
The Lakers have to crash the boards, the Hornets are a very good rebounding team (third best in the NBA in defensive rebounds). The Lakers need to make sure they Hornets donâ€™t get easy put-backs or second chances. Also, cleaning up the defensive glass may give them a chance to run and get some easy buckets.
UPDATE: I had a computer crash that cost me much of my first version of this preview, and in the rush to get it done I missed a couple things. Commenter Reed nicely summed them up, so I’m noting them here:
2. Kobe must attack NOâ€™s wings and get into the lane. NO does not have strong wing defenders, so Kobe must not settle for jump shots tonight. Get into the paint and get to the free throw line. Also, Chandler and West have no reliable backups, so getting them in foul trouble this way would be huge.
3. Force Paul to be a scorer. Weâ€™ve heard this before.
4. Donâ€™t settle for 3s in the triangle. The Laker offense works best when run inside out. Last night (and often lately), the Lakers shooters (Kobe, Radman, Sasha, Fisher, Farmar, Walton) would jack up 3s without taking advantage of Gasol or Odom (or Kobe) on the block. Throw the ball down low, make your cuts, let Pau playmake, and then take the 3 if thatâ€™s what the defense gives you.
5. Bench points. Our biggest advantage over them is in our second unit. If they canâ€™t win the +/- battle at the quarter turns, then we are in trouble. Watch for a close contest between the starters that eventually opens up at the early 2nd or 4th quarter mark.
UPDATE #2: Another great post from Bill Bridges, who has scouted the Hornets well:
The Hornetâ€™s offense.
1. High pick n pop w Paul and West. Pop to West for the open J (actually a set shot) free throw line extended. Automatic. Still donâ€™t know how Cleveland didnâ€™t cover this. Wound up losing to the Hornets on the last play of the game.
2. West post up on the left low block. Heâ€™ll either take the step back J on the baseline or try to pound it into the lane for a jump hook.
3. High pick n roll w Chandler and Paul. Paul lobs for an alley oop dunk from Chandler.
4. Transition. Paul pushes it up. Peja spots up top left 3 point line. A little penetration and dish out to Peja.
Thatâ€™s it. Every thing else is a variation.
1. Stay w/ West on the pick n pop. Paul takes a floater or he dishes it out to Peja whose rotated to the right corner.
2a. Double West before his dribble, he dishes to Peja for the top left 3
2b. Double west after he starts his dribble into the lane, he kicks it out to Paul for the straight ahead 3.
3. Cover Chandlerâ€™s cut and Paul throws it back out to Peja for the top left 3. or takes a floater
4. Cover Peja and stop penetration. Reset the offense.
Peterson gets his usually on corner 3â€™s w the shotclock winding down.
How to slow them down?
1. Yes let Paul shoot. But not off a kickout from West. This he buries. The ones he shoots off the dribble is less reliable.
2. Do not double West unless he is killing you (kinda how you guard Aldridge)
3. Never, ever let Peja get going to leaving him open early in the game.
Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm Fox Sports in LA and League Pass.