Preview & Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  November 12, 2008

Records: Lakers 6-0Hornets 4-2
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3Hornets 110.4
Defensive ratings: Lakers 90.6 Hornets 104.7
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers notes: What hurt the Lakers last season? Inconsistent bench and defense. What won the Lakers another game this season in Dallas? The very good bench and defense.

That defense was terrible in the first quarter, when the Mavs shot 61.9% (eFG%). But in the third quarter the Lakers defense picked up, starting with Gasol who virtually sat on Dirk’s left hand in the second 24. For the quarter, the Lakers held the Mavs to 35% shooting. In the fourth quarter, Dallas shot 30% and 25% from three.

And the run to the win started with the bench. Not surprisingly, Trevor Ariza led the charge and the team for the night as a +16, with Odom and Sasha close behind at +13. And of course, there was Ariza’s impressive block on Stackhouse. (By the way, Stackhouse had more in the tank and played better than I expected from him.)

Ariza’s play has some Lakers fans thinking he should start. I’m not in that camp for two reasons (despite thinking he would be a good starter). First, the team is 6-0, you don’t jerk around lineups when the team is winning. Don’t fix what is working. Second, I think Phil is right that Ariza’s slashing and running game would be somewhat tied down by the larger and more methodical first unit. His game is best suited to the bust of energy, up-tempo change of pace the Lakers come in with off the bench.

Understand that some day, maybe next season, the starting lineup will include Ariza and Farmar. But there’s no reason to go there now.

The Hornets Coming In: This is the team in the West that scares me the most, at least so far, and to find more about them and how the season has started, I asked a few questions of the Hornets blog At The Hive (and if you head over there I answer some of their questions as well):

This team made the big leap forward last year, becoming a contender. Are their signs so far that they took the lessons of last season to heart and are ready to take the next step forward? Specifically, has the defense improved?

Last year, the Hornets’ biggest positive defensively was that they never fouled anyone. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter- Byron Scott had the guys extremely disciplined. It’s a really small sample size this season, but that defensive discipline simply hasn’t been there. Rotations have been slow, and as a result, the Hornets have been forced to foul to compensate. I expect that their FT/FG allowed rates will eventually regress to last year’s levels, but it’s been a slow start for sure.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hornets forced a lot more turnovers this year. Posey has excelled at getting his hands on loose balls, and Julian Wright- another active defender- figures to get way more minutes than last season.

David West is off to a slow start this season (shooting 44%, his rebounds rate down to an average number), what is going on there?

A quick glance says a few too many jump shots. However, his lack of assertiveness down low is more troubling. He’s had 21% of his inside shots blocked this season, a huge jump from 10% last year. He’s been too worried about drawing contact and finishing the play as soon as he feels contact; I think he needs to try and finish plays at all costs, and not let up when he feels there should be a whistle blown. Overall, I’m not worried about West. He should rebound from this stretch soon enough.

The Hornets beat the Heat in their last game, but had two ugly losses before that (including one to the Bobcats). What happened, and are they over that little spell?

It’s easy to blame at least some of it on Peja and Tyson returning from right ankle injuries. The biggest flaw in both those games was perimeter defense. The Hornets simply did not pressure shooters enough, and guys like Adam Morrison and Ronald Murray made them pay. Most players in this league- big names or no names- will knock down shots if you leave them open enough. New Orleans was definitely more impressive against Miami. I’m not ready to say they in mid-season form defensively, but I think it’s safe to say they are past that skid.

How is James Posey fitting in so far? Is he the key to the Hornets contending for big things this year?

Very well. I know many people weren’t too high on his man-defense skills, but he did a really impressive job against LeBron last week. I don’t expect that he can guard Kobe as well (way quicker, infinitely better jump shot), but he’ll be a huge upgrade over Peja. He has also grasped the Hornets’ offense much quicker than I anticipated, understanding floor spacing and where Chris Paul can get him the ball. I imagine he would be a key factor for a deep playoff run.

Link to Click: Ever wonder what it is like to hang out inside the Lakers locker room? Ask the equipment guy.

Keys To The Game: It may be the second game of a road back-to-back, but the Lakers need to get out and run. Despite all the athletes, the Hornets are a very deliberate team (the Lakers average seven more possessions a game than the Hornets). That said, Paul can push the offense if you don’t get back in transition.

Last night the Lakers packed it in and did not defend the three-point line well in the first half — do that tonight and they could pay. Paul, Peja, Peterson, Posey (that’s a lot of alliteration) along with West and Butler are all good three-point shooters. And the Hornets like the shot, they take a lot of them. The Lakers have to close out on those shooters.

In the past, the Lakers philosophy was to give Paul the “Steve Nash treatment” — let him score but don’t let him become a playmaker and set everyone else up. This season, the Lakers have focused more on stopping the leading scorers from other teams. Not sure what they will do tonight, but they can’t let Paul both score and dish out assists at will.

Read the Lakers scouting report and they note that in the two Hornets losses, the team turned the ball over a lot. The Lakers have been creating a lot of steals with their length, and if they can do that tonight they can steal the back end of a back to back.

Where you can watch: This is a 5pm Pacific start on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles, with no national broadcast. There is also 570 am radio here in LA and online.