Coming into the game – with the Hornets short handed and the Lakers having New Orleans’ number recently (winning 8 of their last 10 in this match up) – many assumed that this would be a win. Well, those assumptions turned out to be true as the Lakers were able to start out their road trip with a W, taking down the Hornets 101-95. However, I’m pretty sure no one saw this game playing out the way that it did.
You see, the Hornets were a very game opponent tonight. Throughout the contest they hit shot after shot and stayed within striking distance the entire night. On the evening New Orleans shot nearly 50% from the field, including making 9-21 of their three point shots. And it wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of Laker D. Yes, the Lakers wings could have closed out better on shooters and there were times where the rotations the team showed weren’t as quick as needed. Plus, the Hornets did a good job earning extra possessions by hitting the offensive glass hard grabbing 11 of their own misses. But, the Hornets deserve a load of credit for how they performed on that side of the ball.
Let me rephrase, actually. Chris Paul deserves loads of credit. The Hornets PG was simply brilliant. The entire game he controlled the flow of the action by consistently breaking down the Lakers’ D and getting his teammates open shots. He showed his great skill in managing the P&R and repeatedly found space coming off the screen by either going wide around the hedge man or simply splitting the defenders. After beating the help he relentlessly picked out the open man and found his shooters on time and in space and his guys rewarded his trust in them. Whether it was Aaron Gray or DJ Mbenga slipping into space around the rim or David Andersen spotting up on the perimeter, Paul’s guys hit the shots he needed them to. And when CP3 wasn’t passing, he was knocking down his own shot. Runners, jumpers, floaters, three pointers…Paul hit them all and made it look easy. On the night he finished with 21 points (on 8-11 shooting) and 15 assists to only 4 turnovers. Simply fantastic.
Sadly for the Hornets, though, it wasn’t enough. And that’s because the Lakers had their own players showing brilliance on offense. Namely, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.
We’ll start with the big Spaniard who went all black swan on the Hornets. Gasol knocked down 13 of his 17 shots and 8 of his 9 FT’s on his way to a season high 34 points. For good measure he grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out 3 assists to only 1 turnover, and had a block all while not committing a single foul. Basically, he was as good as he’s been all season. Whether on the low block, the short wing, or the elbow, Pau knocked down shot after shot and used his aggression to get excellent position to get his shot off.
But it wasn’t just Pau that was flashing excellent offensive skill. It turns out that Kobe guy is pretty good too. #24 also topped the 30 point plateau (32 in all), knocking down 10 of his 22 shots including 4 of his 5 three pointers and all 8 of his foul shots. While I normally don’t like for Kobe to settle for as many jumpers that he took tonight, he consistently knocked them down so you won’t hear me complaining. In fact, I liked the fact that Kobe was aggressive with his jumper as that was the shot that the Hornets were giving him. Too often they left him with too much space on the outside and Kobe made them pay for it. Not to mention that a couple of those jumpers were ones that ended Hornets’ runs, including one that was a dagger that broke a 92 all tie and put the Lakers up for good.
This wasn’t the Lakers best game but the Hornets rose to the challenge and played a very good game. I would have liked to see the Lakers win by more, control the contest for longer stretches, and for once not give up a run at the end of a quarter where the opposition steals momentum (this time at the end of the first half AND the 3rd quarter). But, along the same lines the Hornets showed why they’d only lost 5 home games coming into tonight and why they were 13 games over .500 to start the night. They’re a good team that can control the flow of the game when Paul (one of the league’s truly elite players) is on.
In the end, though, a win is all we can ask for and that’s exactly what we got. Style points are great but they don’t add any extra marks to the win column and only matter on highlight reels. The Lakers needed to start this road trip on the right foot and that’s what’s most important. They’ll get the chance to build on it all on Monday vs. the Grizz.