The Lakers can now lay claim to three straight wins after defeating the Hornets 101-97. Overall the team played well, but I must give the Hornets a lot of credit for fighting hard and knocking down their shots to keep the game close throughout. Every time the Lakers started to separate themselves with a nice push, the Hornets would come right back and hit a big shot to ensure that they’d stay within striking distance. Below are a few key notes from the game, bullet style:
*In the last few days, we’ve really focussed on how Pau Gasol has been struggling. Tonight he tried to put that talk to bed with a very strong game. Gasol scored 21 points on only 8 shots, grabbed 13 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists. He was decisive with the ball and rarely took more than a second or two in deciding what his action was going to be. He made several excellent plays, but what stood out to me was his movement around the court and how he went after the ball on both ends of the court. One play that stood out to me happened early in the game when he corralled a Ron Artest miss for a put back. The play itself was nothing too special, but the reason it was memorable to me was because when the shot went up Gasol was above the FT line but instead of standing still or turning to head back on defense he ran hard to the rim, bodied up a Hornet, and went after the ball hard to secure the rebound. That’s a play that Pau hasn’t been making in recent weeks but tonight it was the norm. It’d really be nice if we see this type of play from Pau more consistently in the coming games.
*Pau wasn’t the only big that did damage, though. Both Odom and Bynum also had very good games. ’Drew scored easily inside with a variety of post ups and finishes that show off his growth as scorer. It’s not just the moves and the footwork that impress me, but the patience in which he’s making his moves this year. He’s more balanced in his footwork and his awareness level is better than it’s been at any point in his career. Bynum finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds with an even more important 3 blocks on the night (he really did protect the paint). As for Odom, so much for his bum shoulder. LO matched Bynum’s 17 points and added 13 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks of his own. With 5 minutes left in the game – when the Hornets made another push to pull within 4 – Odom made back to back jumper to keep the game at a 6 point lead and almost single handedly ensured that the Lakers wouldn’t get caught. During the telecast Joel and Stu relayed that Hornets’ coach Monty Williams said that Odom was the real key to the Lakers and that with his skill level and ability he could be an MVP candidate if given enough touches. Obviously that’s skewed by the fact that Odom has played really well against the Hornets, but tonight was another example that Williams will tuck away as proof that his statement is true.
*Considering how well the Lakers bigs played, plus how well Kobe played (we’ll get to him later) the question must be asked why the game was so close. The answer is that the Hornets just wouldn’t go away and found ways to hit shots while just slowing the Lakers enough to stay in the game. New Orleans made 8 of their 19 three point attempts and 23 of their 26 FT attempts. That’s nearly half of their their 97 points just from behind the arc and at the stripe. The Lakers could have defended the three point line a bit better (as I mentioned in the preview you don’t want to just leave those guys wide open), but the Lakers really were focussed on limiting penetration and at times they got too sucked in on drives or on helping against Paul, West, and Okafor.
*What also aided New Orleans was their zone defense. For long stretches throughout the game the Hornets went zone and similar to the Suns game on Wednesday, the Lakers struggled to put together consistent possessions against it. Too often the Lakers slowly rotated the ball around the perimeter and got caught up trying to read the defense when making the next pass rather than dictating to the defense with aggressive ball movement. The slow-ish ball rotations and lack of penetration against the zone enabled the Hornets to cut off post entries which led to the Lakers shooting too many jumpers. The Hornets then took the ball the other way and were able to get some easy looks against an unset Laker D.
*But in the end, the Hornets just didn’t have an answer for all the Lakers’ weapons – especially Kobe. Mr. Bean scored a point more than his jersey number on 10 of 19 shooting from the floor. Many times he turned down long jumpers to try and get into the paint and he hit a variety of runners and leaners inside of 10 feet that were just fantastic finishes. The best one of his shots, though, was a sweeping drive across the paint where he hung and banked home the shot that put him into 9th place on the all-time scoring list ahead of the Big O, Oscar Robertson. So congrats to Kobe for once again making some history and adding another milestone to his resume.
*Lastly, with the win there came some collateral damage. While fighting for a loose ball, Matt Barnes went down with a sprained knee and will have an MRI tomorrow. Steve Blake suffered a sprained ankle and also left the game without returning. Blake, however, did return to the bench area and reports stated that he would have been able to play if he was needed and after the game Phil Jackson did say that he thinks Blake will be ready to go on Sunday. Phil, though, wasn’t as optimistic about Barnes, according to the twitter feed of Mike Trudell. Obviously we’ll just have to wait and see what the MRI says, but if Barnes is out for any substantial amount of time that would certainly be a blow to the Lakers’ bench. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see.