Preview & Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  January 6, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball

Records: Lakers 27-5 (1st in the West) Hornets 20-10 (4th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (2nd in league) Hornets 109.1 (8th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.4 (4th in league) Hornets 104.7 (8th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets Chris Paul, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler.

PAU! The best Laker player over the last few weeks has been Pau Gasol, he has been insanely efficient, killing people with his jumper and playing smart at the rim. Rather than just another breakdown, in his honor — and in Spanish — here’s a little fun from the other night. VAMANOS!!

Lakers notes: I got an interesting email from Kevin Pelton talking about the Lakers defense during the latest winning streak. His perception is that the Lakers have toned down the aggressiveness some — they still double but have had fewer traps and such.

To me, it looks like the Lakers coaches got the team to gamble less — they are staying at home, picking their spots with pressure. Rather than try to get a turnover on every possession, they have packed it in some and decided to give up jumpers (one which they generally close out pretty well).

What are all of you seeing? It’s something to watch tonight and through the next run of games.

Last meetings: The first game was on Nov, 12 and it was a vintage early-season Lakers performance. They jumped out big on the Hornets early and crushed them. The Hornets end of the bench made a run but the game was never close.

Then the Lakers used a game — the second night of a back-to-back — to break out of their slump on Dec. 23. Again the Lakers played good defense, jumped out early and the game never was really in doubt.

The Hornets Coming In: What seems odd is that despite being a 20-10 team, this year’s Hornets just don’t strike fear into teams the way they did last year. At least it feels that way to me. What has changed? Well a little bit of everything.

When you look at the numbers, the Hornets offense is fine — eighth in the NBA in efficiency, down about two points per 100 possessions from last season. It’s not a big drop, this is still a very good offense that can score in transition or with the pick-and-roll in the half court, but it’s just been a little off. The key reason is that their turnovers are up slightly, last year they were second in the NBA in lowest turnover percentage per possession, this season they are 12th.

But the Hornets defense has taken a step back as well. The reason — they foul a lot more. Last season the Hornets fouled the lowest percentage of possessions of any team in the league, just about 18 fouls for 100 field goal attempts. This season it is more like 1 in four field goal attempts ends up in a foul. That is a lot of easy points for your opponent.

All the swings are not dramatic — the offense is just off a little and the defense is just a little worse. But combined, it is just enough to take a team from scary good to just good.

Keys To The Game: In the last two meetings, the Lakers jumped out early on the Hornets, and while there were fourth quarter runs against the bench the Lakers dominated those games. If they can jump out early today, that may demoralize the Hornets and lead to another easy win.

But that will not be easy. After the last two Lakers wins the Hornets may need this one for their own peace of mind, to know they can beat the Lakers. I expect them to treat this as a real statement game, to be especially focused and play particularly hard.

The Lakers length bothers the Hornets – it’s a bad match up for NO. But the Lakers defenders have to be active to take advantage of that. Particularly on the pick-and-roll. The Hornets use Tyson Chandler or West (Chandler rolls hard to the hoop, West pops out for a midrange jumper), and often they do both on the same play. Chris Paul uses those to probe the defense, and the Lakers need to use their length to take away his options.

One thing to key on defensively — if the ball goes to West or Posey it gets stuck. Those two shoot first and don’t pass much.

And, close out on Peja fast. The Lakers cannot let him get hot from the weak side three.

The Lakers dominated the glass during the last two wins, and that needs to continue tonight. Also, Gasol and Bynum should be able to get transition baskets if they get out and run.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start at Staples Center, with Fox Sports doing the local. National, NBA TV will have the game meaning those of you using League Pass broadband will be scrambling for a feed. Which sucks.