They say closing out a team is the hardest win to get in a series. This is even more true on the road. So, it speaks volumes that the Lakers have been quite good at this in the past three years. As The Dude Abides mentioned in the comments:
The Lakers of the Pau Gasol era are 7-1 in road closeout games, including the last five in a row. The only loss was Game 6 of the 2009 2nd Round in Houston. Since then, they won Game 6 in Denver, Game 5 in Orlando, Game 6 in OKC, Game 4 in Utah, and Game 6 in Phoenix.
Tonight, the Lakers will look to make that record 8-1 and prepare for round 2 by getting the win tonight.
By this point, there are no more secrets in this series. The Lakers know what they need to. Physical defense on Chris Paul is a must. Finshing defensive possessions with rebounds is also a necessity. Combine those things with smart, inside/out offense and the Lakers will score enough points to win the game. And that will be that.
But understand that all of this will need to come in the the sports version of a lion’s den where the home crowd will be as loud as they can be and the players will feed off it. Also note that the Hornets will likely try to be as physical as they can be (Monty Williams, Chris Paul, and the Hornets big men all brought up the Lakers’ physical play after game 5) to try and disrupt the Lakers’ sets on both sides of the ball. This means that the Laker big men – especially Gasol and Odom – will need to play through the bumps, shoves, and grabs that come with this type of approach. The Lakers can not expect to be bailed out by the whistle or complain to the refs if something doesn’t go their way. The key to winning this game will lie in the mental strength brought to the table as much as the physical strength.
But in the end, execution will be king. The way to discourage the crowd in the stands and the opposition on the court is to play out both offensive and defensive schemes at their highest level. Pound the Hornets inside on one end and limit Chris Paul on the other. Make Ariza prove that he can continue to bury the long jumper while forcing Landry to either shoot his 18 footer or finish in the paint over size (no easy buckets!). Space the floor on offense and have the bench bring pressure defense and a renewed pace to the game.
Let the crowd know early who the better team is and take them out of the game. Make this contest less about emotion and more about the talent that’s on the floor. In any given game the emotion of the fans can carry a team to victory. The Lakers need to remove that variable from the equation and end this series now. As confident as the Lakers would be in a game 7, I don’t think they want to test their luck with Chris Paul’s potential to summon a game for the ages on Saturday night.
If LA brings the effort and focuses on doing what they need to do, this won’t be an issue. But if the Lakers let Paul get going early, allow the Hornet’s big men to grab extra rebounds, or they settle for long jumpers and ignore Gasol and Bynum on the block, both teams will be flying to Los Angeles after this game. Here’s to the Lakers landing at LAX by themselves.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on KCAL locally and TNT nationally.