Preview & Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  November 8, 2009

Records: Lakers 5-1 Hornets 2-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 106.9, Hornets 107.1
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 103.3 Hornets 113.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, DJ Mbenga
Hornets: Chris Paul, Devin Brown, Julian Wright, David West, Emeka Okafor

The Lakers Coming in: Second verse, same as the first: no Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol again tonight. That will put some pressure on DJ Mbenga, who will have to protect the rim against Chris Paul, defend the pick and roll and deal with Emeka Okafor. While Mark Gasol is a good player, the Memphis offensive scheme was basically a straight line (that started late in the shot clock). New Orleans presents a bigger challenge.

In the preseason and after the first game, there were some on this site really questioning why Josh Powell was getting so much burn, and my defense of him was pretty tepid (“hey, he’s a solid pro playing or the minimum, what did you expect?”). But after the last game Phil Jackson called Powell the most consistent player the Lakers have had off the bench this year, and he’s right. Powell said post game he worked on his shot this offesason and it shows — he’s played the role of spot-up shooter at the four, but he is shooting 64.1% (eFG%) showing he is hitting those shots. He can hit that corner three if you leave him. He has been solid on the glass. Flat out, he has been professional.

Basically, J-Peazy deserves credit for stepping up and playing quality minutes when called upon.

The Hornets Coming in: First, let us wish well to Hornets’ owner George Shinn, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Hope he makes a full recovery.

It is really hard to overstate how well Chris Paul is playing right now. His True Shooting Percentage is 74.9% (Kobe is at 56.1%, Bynum is at 59.7%). He is shooting 72% from three point range. He is doing his scoring (28.5 points per game) from range — nine of his shots per game come from outside 16 feet, Even with that, 31% of the possessions he uses end in an assist. He leads the NBA this young season in PER.

David West remains a great fit at the four to compliment what CP3 does, he can spread the floor with shooting range (all the way out to three) or play inside. He’s also a good passer, if not much of a rebounder at the four. Emeka Okafor also has had a good scoring start to the season and provides more scoring punch at the center spot than the Hornets have had in years.

But the Hornets defense has been so bad that doesn’t matter. Teams are shooting well against them, especially from three (38.3%), and basically are above the league average in every category. Well, save one, the Hornets don’t foul much. But that’s a pretty dim silver lining if teams keep making shots. Also, the Hornets rebounding at both ends has been bad. Now, are the two things mentioned in this paragraph tied to letting Tyson Chandler go?

For the first six games of the season, Mo Peterson was the starting two guard for the Hornets, but coach Byron Scott is making the switch to Devin Brown tonight. Peja remains the two guard off the bench for the Hornets, and the Lakers cannot help off him at the three point line (Kobe, that means you).

Blogs and Links: Be sure to check out Hornets 24/7.

Keys to game: The Lakers need to slow Chris Paul. Not stop him, that’s about like saying you are going to shut down Kobe or LeBron — CP3 is playing that well right now. The hard part is that the book used to be “make him a jump shooter, keep him out of the paint” but so far this season he is killing it from the outside.

Despite that, I think the key is to “Steve Nash” him — make him a shooter. Ideally an outside shooter, but the key is you’d rather CP3 shoot than rack up 18 assists, because those assists tend to go to guys dunking or in spots where they like the ball. Derek Fisher had one of his smarter defensive games against Memphis, we can hope that carries over and that the bench guys (this might be a good Brown night with CP3’s strength).

Defending Paul starts with defending the pick-and-roll well — the Hornets offense is usually a high screen for CP3 then let him make good decisions. This will put a lot of pressure on Mbenga and Odom to show out on those picks, then recover to their man. One good thing is that Lamar Odom and those long arms of his tend to frustrate David West (when he has gone off on the Lakers as generally been when Odom is out). Odom needs to have another one of those games.

On offense, Devin Brown is going to be on Kobe. The Lakers went at the mismatch of OJ Mayo on Kobe last game, and when Memphis didn’t really adjust the Lakers kept going at it. Some complain Kobe shoots too much, but you win NBA games by exploiting mismatches (and creating good looks by forcing doubles or on drives). Memphis didn’t stop him — you keep going at the weak spot. I expect Brown will get help on Kobe, but that means Artest and others need to hit their shots when things open up.

Also, New Orleans is not a good team on the glass. Even without the two seven-foot starters, The Lakers should be able to get some offensive put backs and, more key yet, limit all the second chances they have given up this season. The team that wins the battle of the boards will have a big advantage.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 6:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles. Also, 710 ESPN Radio has the game.