Records: Lakers 25-11 (3rd in West), Hornets 21-15 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3 (3rd in NBA), Hornets 104.3 (23rd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (11th in NBA), Hornets 102.4 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West, Emeka Okafor
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Hornets: none
What Ails You?: The Lakers are riding a two game win streak on the strength of improved offensive execution, a knack for controlling the glass, and timely defense. So things are looking up in that the Lakers may be starting to turn the corner by playing some better basketball and building some momentum.
But they’re also a bit banged up. After having a pretty scary fall in the last game, Lamar Odom is dealing with a sore left shoulder. That’s okay though because it’s not like he’s left han…oh wait. And then there’s a story that Peter Vescey of the NY Post ran today where Kobe acknowledes that he’s dealing with an “almost bone on bone” situation with his right knee that’s led to increased swelling since he started practicing more in the past couple of weeks (for those that were unaware, Kobe has been sitting out a lot of practices this year to save the wear and tear on his body as well as to help deal with his recovery from off-season knee surgery).
All of this is just another sub-plot to what’s “wrong” with the Lakers, but ultimately I just see it as the grind of the season. Neither player is going to miss tonight’s game and both have been known to gut their way through most ailments. That said, it’d be nice if the Lakers can continue to play well while also getting these guys some extra minutes of rest. Especially with a game heavy January still mostly in front of them.
The Hornets Coming in: Since losing to the Lakers only 8 days ago, the Hornets have won 3 of 4 games. Their year long formula of being carried by their defense while relying on Chris Paul to make enough plays on offense to pull out games has been the norm in that stretch. In their most recent game they lost to the Warriors in a game where Chris Paul just couldn’t get it going in the final frame.
And speaking of Chris Paul, there’s a great piece up on him by Beckley Mason of HoopSpeakwhere he talks about the current state of CP3′s game that you should go over and read. Here’s a sample (via TrueHoop):
The way he finished, no one would say he played a perfect game. Yet he finished with a near flawless stat line of 24 points, 13 assists (two TOs), and six rebounds on 6-12 shooting.
As a result of games like these, I find myself confused as to whether Paul is really back, even though he may well be the game’s best point guard.
The entire thing is worth your time as it really details how Paul is still quite excellent (and maybe even more efficient than ever) while still not being the same force of nature that he was before his injury. Go check it out. (We’ll be here when you get back.)
Keys to game: Being that these teams just met and the Lakers dominated, it’d be easy to say “just do what worked the last time” and leave it at that. In that game, Andrew Bynum got his first start of the year and the Lakers controlled the inside with post ups and interior passing where the bigs were able to go off. Odom especially had a great game in his first game as a reserve going for 24 points and playing in attack mode all night.
That last sentence is why it may be difficult for the Lakers to completely duplicate what worked so well a week ago. With Odom banged up (and on his shooting shoulder too) the Lakers can still work inside but will have to rely almost exclusively on the exploits on Bynum and Gasol (just too tough to rely on LO with the condition of his shoulder really an unknown). Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but Gasol hasn’t had his best stretch of late and that may mean that Bynum has to do a bit more as a post scorer (which he’s looked capable doing lately). I’m not saying Pau can’t get it done – he has a good match up with West where he can use his height and reach over the former Xavier product – but I do expect a more balanced attack between Pau and ‘Drew tonight as both have the chance to do work against undersized defenders.
Obviously Kobe also has a favorable match up facing off against Marco Belinelli to start the game. Kobe has a size and strength advantage against Marco so I would not be surprised to see Kobe find ways to turn his offensive possessions into post ups even when he doesn’t set up at the low block. Expect to see Kobe waive off players to isolate a side and initiate back down moves from 18 feet and in. This will give him the chance to either get off his shot easily or hit open players if the Hornets decide they’d like to commit extra defenders. I know this isn’t classic Triangle stuff, but it the end formation of Kobe doing work from the elbow and down is a place that he’s extremely comfortable and a spot where the team often tries to get him the ball. (I liken all of it to what the Lakers did against Denver in 2009.)
Defensively, Chris Paul is the key to everything that the Hornets do so dealing with him is the biggest key. As usual he’ll look to work the P&R to either set up Okafor on rolls to the hoop or to West who can both pop to the short wing or dive to the cup. If neither of those options are there, Paul is still master of manipulating defenses to get to his sweet spot at the FT line where he can shoot his mid-range jumper. The Lakers can slow this entire action by helping off the wings as the Hornets don’t possess the types of shooters that scare you. However, it must be noted that Belinelli and Ariza are both capable of getting hot from out there so ignoring them completely isn’t recommended. The Lakers must be smart with their help and not just use leaving them alone behind the arc as their default position.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of revenge in this game. The loss from December 29th is surely still fresh on the minds of the Hornets and they’d like nothing else than to return the favor tonight. Earlier this year we saw how the Lakers took a loss to the Pacers personally and came out hungry with something to prove in the rematch. The Hornets have talent and they have one of the most competitive players in the league playing point guard. These guys will be ready to compete and tonight’s not the night for the Lakers to rest on the fact that they’ve been playing better of late. The same mindset of improving and doing the little things must be at the forefront of tonight’s effort.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.