Preview & Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  December 23, 2008

Records: Lakers 22-5 (1st in the West) Hornets 16-7 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (3rd in league) Hornets
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.5 (4th in league) Hornets
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets Chris Paul, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic (a game time decision), David West, Tyson Chandler.

Lakers notes: Just a couple quick thoughts out of last night:

It was another win that was not very pretty, but after the last couple of games I’ll take that W.

If you ever watch a baseball player who is in a hitting slump, it seems right before they break out of it they have a couple of games where they just hammer the ball but right at fielders for outs. Lamar Odom looked like that to me last night, it was the most aggressive he has been in a while, but all the benefits of that did not show up. (He was a team best +18, but 15 of that came in the run to end the game). I hope it continues.

More Sasha at the backup point, please.

Personally, I’m sort of done with the Luke as a starter experiment, but I’m not sure that Radmanovic is a great improvement (better shot, slightly better defense, worse ball movement). I’ve not loved the idea in the past, but maybe it is time to give Ariza the start, he is already closing games out. (Which is what matters most.)

Last meeting: Back on Nov, 12, the Lakers went into New Orleans and beat the Hornets 93-86. It was a vintage early-season Lakers performance, on the second night of a back-to-back they jumped out big on the Hornets early and crushed them. The Hornets end of the bench made a run on the Lakers end of the bench to make the score look good, but the game was never close.

Remember those days….

Thoughts from At the Hive:Rohan from At The Hive shared his thoughts on the team right now.

After a rough stretch to open the season, the Hornets are finally starting to hit their stride. Their offensive efficiency is almost on par with last year’s, but more impressively, the defensive efficiency has ticked up despite Tyson Chandler missing time. The primary reason seems to be more forced turnovers. Obviously, Chris Paul is getting a lot of the attention for his league leading steals rate. But the team is also forcing more shot clock violations per possession than last year. Also, the addition of James Posey has led to far more drawn charges as you might expect. As Tyson gets more consistent minutes, I think we’ll see the Hornets’ increased allowed FT/FG return to last year’s (very) low levels. For now, this is a top 10 defensive team. They’re certainly not at the Lakers’ level defensively yet, but I can see them surging into the top 7 or 6 as the season moves forward.

On offense, the Hornets have taken a step back mostly due to turnovers and offensive rebounding. Chris Paul has had an unexpected uptick in turnover rate. I’m considering it a statistical anomaly for now, considering his very low turnover rates for 3 straight years. But I won’t be surprised to see many of our next opponents, including the Lakers, opt for the hard trap on him. The offensive rebounding plunge has been mostly due to Tyson Chandler’s absence. He’s missed time this year for his ankle, for his kid, and for his neck- quite the medley of random ailments. Excluding Chandler, the Hornets are not a very good offensive rebounding team anyway, so Tyson’s absence has left a gaping hole. Recently, the team has been on the O-boards more frequently. Still, this team still has a ways to go before reaching last season’s offensive rebounding levels.

The Hornets Coming In: In case you didn’t see it above, Laker killer Peja is a game-time decision tonight. He has missed the last two Hornet games due to back spasms. Which really suck by the way, if you have ever had them. If he doesn’t start, look for James Posey to start instead. Not much of a relief for the Lakers.

The Hornets are 8-2 in their lat 10 (better than the Lakers 7-3). The reason is largely that NBA Player of the Week Chris Paul is hot as can be. In the last 10 games he is averaging 20 points shooting 53% eFG% and adding 11 assists. David West is feeding off that and averaging 19 and 8 over that same time.

(Off topic slightly, also 8-2 in their last 10 are Houston and San Antonio. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the Lakers are playing well I don’t think the Spurs as constructed can beat them in a seven-game series. But Houston, if everything is clicking, could be another story.)

Keys To The Game: Last meeting, the Lakers got a little bit lucky: The Hornets got some open looks at threes that just didn’t fall. The Lakers can’t count on that again, and they have not closed out on shooters consistently at all in recent games.

Specifically, stay with Peja at the three-point line. I’m looking at you, Luke Walton, you were the king of sagging off your man last night in Memphis, tonight the results will be much worse.

The Lakers have to defend the pick and roll tonight to have a chance. The Hornets use Tyson Chandler to set the pick and roll to the hoop, or West to set and pop out for a jumper. What is most dangerous is they often do both on the same play, and allow Chris Paul to use one or both picks as he sees fit. As he probes and prods looking for his spot, the Lakers have to stay disciplined on their assignments and be quick in their rotations. The Hornets know how to play off CP3.

The Hornets do not run well, so the Lakers may be able to get some transition baskets tonight. Especially if the bigs run well.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. start out west, with KCAL9 here in LA and NBA TV nationwide. Unless you want to use NBA broadband, in which case you get the Grinch tonight.