Archives For April 2011

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: If we learned anything in the two days leading up to the Lakers’ commanding 106-90 Game 5 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, it’s that people still don’t trust Kobe Bryant. What more does the guy have to do? Following Bryant’s balking at getting X-rays or an MRI exam on his left-ankle sprain from late in Game 4, a hoard of armchair doctors took to the talk-radio waves and their Twitter feeds to diagnose his injury. They called for him to drop the tough-guy act and warned he could be causing further damage down the road. It was too big a risk for the first round against New Orleans, fans cried. What if it were worse than a sprain, like a hairline fracture or even a break? Now, after Bryant dropped a team-high 19 points in 28 minutes and threw in one of the most highlight-worthy dunks of his “SportsCenter” Top 10-laden career, the only question is: What will he do for an encore?

From Gary Lee, Lakers Nation: Last night, in a pivotal game 5 vs. the New Orleans Hornets, the world wondered aloud if they were seeing the decline of Kobe Bryant. They wondered if his body was starting to break down and if he was able to fight off Father time for another night to pull the Lakers through to victory. Well, as we saw with his tide-turning dunk over Emeka Okafor, Kobe Bryant not only fought off Father time, but crossed him over and made him fall to his knees in amazement. Watching that dunk, a number of our twitter followers were talking about how they haven’t seen that version of Kobe since his afro days, so we thought we’d take a look back at those “Afro” days with a collection of videos we found on YouTube of Top 10 Plays from his first 4 years as well as some of the best commercials Kobe filmed during that time.

Eric Koreen, Posted SportsIn December, a group of Toronto artists mounted a Ron Artest-themed exhibition. Shockingly, considering Artest’s history of complete randomness, the Los Angeles Lakers star made an appearance, the night before his team played the Raptors. Artest was not going to attend originally. “At first I thought it was something bad. I thought it was [someone trying to be] funny. I thought it was someone making jokes,” he said. “I’ve been doing so many [good] things, and then it’s like, ‘Oh man, I can’t do anything good without somebody doing something bad, trying to bring down my name.’ I was a little bit disturbed, just by the name of the title [of the exhibit], ‘Lovable Badass’, right?”

From Emile Avanessian, Hardwood Hype: Whatever your reason for tuning in- escapist entertainment, civic pride, gambling interests, whatever- the greatest moments in the sports-viewing life of any fan are those that unfold when the spectacular and the unexpected converge. Last night in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant, author of countless such moments, made his latest deposit into our memory bank. Having relied less on athleticism this season than in any of the previous 14, and playing on a left ankle that he’d sprained exactly six weeks prior in Dallas and rolled again in the Lakers’ Game 4 loss in New Orleans, Kobe was not expected to conjure up images of a mini-fro and a #8 jersey on Tuesday night. It’s a good thing no one bothered to inform Kobe.

From LSU Hornet, At The Hive: This is the first thing I’m writing since the start of the playoffs, and even now I am writing more as a fan than an analyst, journalist, or anything else someone might mistake me for. As soon as we were matched up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, I decided to throw rationality out of the window and go into the series as purely a fan of the team. I knew that almost everyone did not expect much out of this team, with the most optimistic outlooks only calling for a “gentleman’s sweep” in favor of the defending champs. Even in our own Writer’s Roundtable, not one of us mentioned the possibility of winning the series.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It was nasty. A mighty collision of wills at the rim, and doctors will be removing pieces of Kobe Bryant from Emeka Okafor’s posterized face for days. There could even be some basketball-leather shrapnel. It was just nasty. Oh, the other injury. Yeah, never mind. Bryant played 29 minutes on the sprained left ankle that forced him to hobble out of New Orleans Arena on crutches two nights earlier and required nonstop treatment to get him ready for Tuesday at Staples Center. He had a team-high 19 points, making eight of 13 shots. Bryant didn’t just heal. He got into the way-back machine. He saw a lane to the basket from the perimeter, then he saw Okafor coming to defend, and then he performed like Kobe of old (and not old as in last weekend, when health wasn’t giving the Lakers something to worry other than the Hornets). “It looked like he was going to challenge me at the rim,” Bryant said. “I accepted the challenge.”

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The Lakers just enjoyed one of the trickle-down bonuses of Kobe Bryant’s drive. He plays hurt, he plays well, and he inspires his team to rally around him. It dates all the way back to his first championship in 2000, when he played on a sprained left ankle (sound familiar?) after sitting out a Game 3 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Shaquille O’Neal fouled out in overtime of Game 4, and Bryant carried the Lakers to the finish of that game with a performance that O’Neal even admitted he re-watched on video that summer as a pure fan. From Bryant’s oak tree, there grows another firm branch, though – one the Lakers hope to climb out on Thursday night against the Hornets. Bryant’s killer instinct is unique, too.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: After converting on a right hook, Lakers forward Pau Gasol pumped his fist. After converting on an inside lob, Lakers center Andrew Bynum flexed his muscles. And after the Hornets surprisingly owned the advantage inside for most of the series, both Gasol and Bynum finally fought back with increased aggressiveness. The Lakers’ 106-90 Game 5 victory Tuesday over the New Orleans Hornets assuaged concerns for reasons besides retaking control of the series and Kobe Bryant still managing to play through pain with a sprained left ankle. It took four games longer than it should have, but Game 5 also featured the Lakers finally showcasing their superior size advantage against the Hornets in a physical nature, a quality not usually attached to the defending champions. “We should play like that all the time,” Gasol said after posting 16 points on six-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocks. “[Game 5] was a game we needed to play physical, control the boards and use our bodies.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: In a wave of nostalgia, Lakers forward Ron Artest poured out his emotions, unmasked his vulnerabilities and inspired a group of policymakers and fans alike. All it took was a few sentences thanking his psychologist after his Game 7 heroics in the 2010 NBA Finals to set the hook: “She really helped me relax so much. Thank you so much. It was so difficult to play when there’s so much emotion going on in the playoffs. She helped me so much.” It turns out Artest’s plug helped others. It wasn’t too long after that memorable postgame interview that the office of Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) contacted Artest’s publicist, Heidi Buech, to see if Artest was interested in speaking out on mental health issues. Before Artest knew it, he was visiting schools, testifying before Congress on behalf of the Mental Health in Schools Act, appearing in a public service announcement with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and raffling off his own championship ring for $651,006 for various mental health charities. Artest plans to distribute the money after the playoffs end.

More Thoughts On Game 5

Darius Soriano —  April 27, 2011

Last night’s game 5 may have been the best game the Lakers have played in this young post season. No one player was that great, but the cumulative production that the players produced made for a great win. With 6 Lakers scoring double figures and the bench players bringing a spark with their energy and hustle on both ends, every player that saw game action contributed positively. In a 16 point win it’s not rare to have every player with a positive plus/minus, but the Lakers are one team where that’s often not true. Often times, even in blowout wins, the bench unit gets outplayed and there’s a player or two that are -4 or -6 on the night. Or, there’s a starter that had a couple of particularly poor stretches and he ends up on the negative end at the game’s conclusion. Last night, even if it was only a +2, every Laker had a positive plus minus. I know it’s not an end all stat, but it does show that every Laker was able to contribute to helping the team win in the minutes he played.

A few other thoughts from game 5 and the rest of the series…

  • After the game, everyone had an opinion on Kobe’s ankle injury. Most of the Hornets players (plus coach Monty Williams) said that Kobe really wasn’t that hurt, essentially saying “did he look hurt out there?”. And while Kobe was surely good enough to play, I thought he was noticeably moving gingerly early in the game and later on you could tell he didn’t have a lot of burst when moving off the ball. Plus, on defense, he didn’t have any quickness when trying to move laterally to keep up with guys off the dribble. Several times even Belinelli went right by him off the dribble when Kobe tried to close out.
  • As for the dunks he threw down being evidence that Kobe’s not hurt, go back and review them. Notice that neither of his dunks came off his bum left leg. The Okafor dunk was a two footed takeoff and on the left hander he tossed in over Landry, Kobe jumped off his right leg. Neither required a lot of lift from his bad leg. Even when Kobe was driving he was pushing off his right leg a lot (something he does frequently anyway). Basically, I thought Kobe compensated for his injury well but that the plays he made last night don’t really erase the fact that he’s pretty banged up.
  • After game 2, I mentioned that the Lakers needed to help Pau help the team by setting more screens for him and not ask him to simply back his man down to get post position. I acknowledged that Pau did need to work harder to be effective, but the solution to his problems didn’t lie just with Gasol himself. In game 5, we saw improvement in both aspects. The Lakers ran several center opposite sets for Pau, setting cross screens for him to make the catch coming to the strong side (his 2nd basket of the game came on this set). Pau also got in a lower stance when posting up and that allowed him to better back down Landry on several plays that set up his jump hook and turnaround jumper. It only took 5 games for this to happen, but better late than never.
  • Is it just me, or does Trevor Ariza look like the 2009 version of himself? He’s canning open jumpers, driving to the cup hard, and finishing acrobatically over big men challenging. Yesterday on twitter someone (I can’t recall who) commented that Ariza was obviously so bad the last two regular seasons because those games weren’t in the playoffs. It came off as mostly a joke, but Ariza does seem a like a guy that raises his game in the post-season. All I can say is, good for him. After all, stepping up in the post-season helped earn our guys some hardware.
  • Since I brought up Ariza, it’s only fair to bring up Artest too. He’s having himself an excellent series and last night’s effort was no exception. For a good take on what Ron’s done so far these playoffs, go read this. It’s worth your time.
  • Last night Jarrett Jack was 0-3 from the field and scored 1 point. He also had 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers. Surely the Hornets need more from him than this if they expect to win.  Since he went 5-6 for 15 points in game 1, Jack is a combined 4-21 with only 14 points total (though, to be fair, he also hit a big jumper in the closing seconds of game 4 that ultimately clinched that win). And while this may just be coincidence, Jack’s decline coincides with Steve Blake’s return from the chicken pox.
  • Lastly, is it just me or is this Hornets team hard to hate? Every playoffs I find myself utterly disliking the opposing team. Last year, even the Thunder brought it out of me with Durant’s arm sweep to draw fouls, Westbrook’s screams after a big play, and Thabo’s defense (and I generally like those guys a lot). This year though, I just can’t bring myself to those levels with the Hornets. Sure Landry upsets me at times but that’s about it. Chris Paul has been brilliant, Okafor has been stoic and classy (even after getting raked in the face by Kobe last night), and their head coach has been nothing but professional the entire time. Maybe I’m alone here but I’d like to see this team win if they weren’t facing the Lakers.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: I’ll say this for Kobe, the man doesn’t just play while hurt. He throws all possible caution to the wind when it comes to logical approaches in this state. First, he refuses to get an MRI on his injured ankle like any sane person whose body is their temple would do. From there, it’s not about limping all game to lend a complimentary helping hand, as many (myself included) felt would be the case. Instead, Bryant mustered as much or more aggression as he would on his teenage ankles. The lane was attacked — often to great effect — and he offered some of his most electric elevation since that time he introduced his midsection to Steve Nash’s face. By any sensible measure, the approach doesn’t hold up to sound reason. But guess what? It worked.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: If we learned anything in the two days leading up to the Lakers’ commanding 106-90 Game 5 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, it’s that people still don’t trust Kobe Bryant. They called for him to drop the tough-guy act and warned he could be causing further damage down the road. It was too big a risk for the first round against New Orleans, fans cried. What if it were worse than a sprain, like a hairline fracture or even a break? Now, after Bryant dropped a team-high 19 points in 28 minutes and threw in one of the most highlight-worthy dunks of his “SportsCenter” Top 10-laden career, the only question is: What will he do for an encore?

From J.A. Adande, Daily Dime: Guess there was no need for Kobe Bryant to get an X-ray or MRI on his sprained left ankle. You could’ve asked Emeka Okafor or Carl Landry or any other member of the Hornets and they’d say it checked out fine. Talk about resonance. The waves from Bryant’s soaring dunk over Okafor in the second quarter could be felt all over Staples Center. The crowd went from nervous quiet to energized roar. Bryant came back with a layup to erase the Hornets’ last lead of the game, and the Lakers were on their way to their most convincing victory of this first-round series, 106-90, to put them up 3-2. “All this talk about his ankle,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Did it look like his ankle was hurting? OK then.”

From Ryan Schwan, Hornets247: Yes, the turnovers hurt pretty bad, but the real story of that game was the Lakers simple dominance on the glass. The Hornets couldn’t get an offensive rebound to save their lives, and the Lakers either out-muscled or out-reached the Hornets for multiple second chance points. With the Hornets already struggling defensively, their inability to keep the Lakers one and done on the shots they did miss was killer. Honestly, I was hoping for a little more Aaron Gray in there as the Hornets struggled mightily inside.  In the end, the Lakers outrebounded the Hornets by 17, and more importantly, had 15 offensive rebounds to the Hornets 3.

From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor, also known as Emeka Okafor, 28, was born on September 28, 1982 in Houston, Texas. Okafor was laid to rest on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 after an apparent murder in the first degree at the rim by Kobe Bean Bryant. Emeka is most notably known for being the #2 pick in the 2004 NBA draft, just behind one Dwight Howard. The pallbearers for Okafor’s burial will be his four teammates in the starting lineup: Chris Paul, Willie Green from Detroit, Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry. A special scholarship has been created in honor of Emeka for “valor in stupidity in the lane by centers in the 2004 draft” to honor those who have fallen to one Kobe Bryant.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Every once in a while, the easy story is actually the correct story. It sounds overly pat, but trust me, it really happened like this: for most of the first half tonight, the Lakers struggled to get a handle on Game Five of their series against the New Orleans Hornets. They were a step slow, and if we’re being honest, looked a little nervous. With just a few minutes to go before the break, they trailed by four. At that point Kobe Bryant, who needed crutches to leave New Orleans Arena on Sunday and who refused an MRI on his injured ankle, brought the basketball world to its feet with a majestic, swooping dunk over Emeka Okafor. His lightning strike defibrillated the Lakers and changed the energy of the game. Jolted to life by the Mamba, the champs became the aggressors. They turned the dial up on defense and took the battle into the paint, where they overwhelmed the Hornets and won going away, 106 to 90.

From Hannah Bradley, Lakers Nation: The advisement to get an MRI or x–ray is something no one wants to face in his or her lifetime, especially as a professional athlete. Whether you’re playing pick up games at the YMCA or in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the thought of an injury is hard to come to terms with. With this said, when looking at most players they will accept the injury; take a seat on the bench and cheer on their team, hoping for the best. Kobe Bryant isn’t that kind of player. The five-time NBA champion sprained his left ankle in the closing minutes of Game 4 against the Hornets Sunday, forcing Lakers Nation to cross their fingers yet again. In the days leading up to Game 5, Kobe has been receiving moderate care, including icing, electrostimulation and massage. He refused to get either an MRI or a x-ray, much to the dismay of the Lakers front office.

From Johnny Ludden, Yahoo! Sports: The lane opened, and so did Kobe Bryant’s eyes. In that flash of an instant, Bryant’s warped ankle no longer felt stiff. His legs felt alive. He took one hard dribble and exploded up. Emeka Okaor, the New Orleans Hornets center, jumped too. Bryant cocked the ball with his right hand as if it were a hammer held above his head, and … well, this did not end gently for Mr. Okafor. These are the moments when an NBA season can turn, and Kobe knew as much. This game, this series – maybe even these entire playoffs – became his again. Shannon Brown would later joke that the last time he had seen such a ferocious dunk, Kobe had an Afro. Brown and the rest of these Los Angeles Lakers saw the fury in Kobe’s eyes, and they understood.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant stormed down the lane, rose into the air and stayed there above 6-foot-10 Emeka Okafor before dropping a hammer dunk that shook the very foundation of Staples Center. The force of the slam fired up the Lakers late in the first half en route to their 106-90 tiebreaking Game 5 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night. The Lakers have won the past 16 series in which they won Game 5 of tied series. Bryant, playing on a sprained left ankle that had Lakers fans panicky in recent days, was quiet in the early going while the Hornets took a nine-point lead early in the second quarter. But Bryant’s dunk 3:31 before halftime energized his team and his town. He had been unhappy with a continuation basket allowed by referees at the other end after his foul on Trevor Ariza, giving New Orleans a 44-40 lead. So Bryant got the ball from Pau Gasol near the free-throw line and drove right into and over Okafor before staring at his nearby bench to finish the statement.

From Vincent Bonsingore, LA Daily News: Magic Johnson stood in a dark hallway at Staples Center Tuesday flashing his famous smile and trying to put Lakers fans at ease. A lot of good it was doing for Lakers Nation. In a little over an hour Kobe Bryant would take the floor against the New Orleans Hornets in Game 5 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, and for the first time in two days the Lakers, their fans and the world would finally see how well his sprained left ankle was holding up. Or not. The tension was real, the Lakers knotted in a 2-2 tie with the surprising Hornets and needing a victory to regain control of the series.

Before the game, I mentioned that tonight – like it or not – questions would be answered tonight. Suffice to say, we like the answers. The Lakers came out ready to play top shelf basketball and by doing so took down the Hornets 106-90 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. The Lakers are now on the verge of advancing and it only took them 5 contests to bring forth their best game of the series.

Through the first 12 minutes, however, I’m not sure any of us thought this game would turn out this way. The Hornets came out on fire, making 13 of their first 16 attempts from the floor and dropping a 32 spot on the Lakers in the first period. Every jumper either went through the hoop cleanly or tortured the home fans by bouncing on every part of the rim before dropping through. Trevor Ariza was especially deadly as a scorer, hitting all 4 of his field goals (including 2 three pointers) for 10 quick points. The Laker wings barely rotated to Ariza when he caught the ball and he made them pay the way he did so many of the Lakers’ opponents back in 2009 when he donned that purple and gold #3. Meanwhile, Chris Paul was equally brilliant as a distributor racking up 8 assists in that first frame. Paul, as he has for most of this series, controlled the tempo and tenor of the game by running the P&R to perfection and getting into the open court to break down the slow transitioning Laker D.

On the Laker side, they were able to stay close but only barely. With Kobe clearly not 100%, the Lakers pounded the ball inside to Gasol and Bynum to try and establish their inside game. The Laker bigs combined to take 13 first quarter shots, making 6 of them and scoring 14 points in the process. Clearly their strategy was to control the game by dominating the paint but with the Hornets shooting 81% early on, the strategy wasn’t really working as the Lakers plodding style wasn’t able to keep pace with the hot shooting Hornets.

However, at the start of the 2nd period that started to change. The Laker reserves came into game and turned the tempo around. Blake and Barnes started to pressure the ball, Shannon Brown – though making some questionable decisions in the early part of his stint – hit a couple of big threes, and slowly the Hornets started to regress to the mean by missing shots. Before you knew it, the Hornets 9 point lead was down to a single point and the Lakers were in position to take control of the game. All they needed was one last spark to push them over the top. Re-enter Kobe Bryant.

After taking his normal rest at the end if the 1st quarter, Kobe came back in determined to make his mark on the game. No longer would he simply stand on the weak side while the ball went into the post. He wanted into the action and he was going to bully his way into the fray if need be. Then, like a scene from 2006, Kobe put his mark on the game the doubts about his ankle out of everyone’s mind.

After that spectacular play, the Lakers and Kobe had a newfound energy. Suddenly, the defense was even better and the offense ran more smoothly. Kobe took the ball into his hands and was aggressive attacking the hoop, pouring in 12 of his 19 points in the period. And when Kobe  wasn’t attacking, the ball moved crisply around the perimeter and into the post to big men that had found their rhythm earlier in the game. What resulted was a 31 point quarter for the Lakers to only a 19 point output for the Hornets.

In the 2nd half, these trends only became more established. The Laker bigs continued their dominance inside by gobbling up rebounds on both ends of the floor and limiting the Hornets ability to do any real damage inside. And as the numbers for the game detail, the Lakers simply dominated the inside. I mean, the Lakers won the rebounding battle 42-25, the offensive rebounding margin was 15-3, and the second chance point battle 22-2. Where Bynum (6-11, 18 points) and Gasol (6-12, 16 points) combined for 34 points, Okafor and Landry only contributed 13 combined. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

But it wasn’t just the Lakers starting bigs that were efficient, Ron and Fisher also had themselves very good games. Ron continued his excellent two-way play by scoring 11 points of his own and playing very good D on Ariza after Trevor had that hot 1st period. And sure, Ron ceded some open jumpers to Trevor but he also cut off his drives and made him settle for may off balance pull up jumpers and awkward shots off the dribble when he couldn’t get all the way to the rim. At one point Ariza missed 6 of 7 shots and a lot of that had to do with the job that Ron did on him. Meanwhile, Fisher was simply excellent in this game. 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting for Fisher, not to mention some solid defense on Paul when put on an island in isolation (not something we expect, that’s for sure).

In the end though, what I liked most about this game was that the team effort really did come from patience and discipline. In a game where the Hornets jumped out quickly due to their outside shooting, the Lakers stuck to their plan by going inside and slowly wore the Hornets down. When an energy boost was needed, the reserves came in and played aggressively and outperformed their counterparts on from the Hornets bench. And when the bench went out, Kobe came in and picked up the entire team by performing at a level that was completely unexpected considering how he looked after game 4 and in the early part of this game. As a team, the Lakers played smart, physical basketball and treated the fans to great win in the process. After the first quarter, they played excellent defense and dominated the backboards thoroughly. They really did provide a complete performance on a night that they needed it. Hopefully, they can do the same on Thursday to close out the series.

Like it or not, questions will be answered tonight. Is Kobe’s ankle really okay enough to play on? If so, good enough play effectively? Will the Lakers go back to playing physically with Chris Paul to limit his effectiveness? Will the confidence that Andrew Bynum showed in post practice interviews translate to the court? (“Our offense will be better. Our defense will be better. We will win game 5.)

The Lakers know how important this game 5 is. A loss means facing elimination on the road for the first time since the 2008 Finals. Winning means the chance to close out the series on the road in game 6 – something they’ve done quite well over the past three seasons. Tonight’s game may not be for all the marbles, but the loser will see their window of opportunity to advance nearly close completely.

A few things I hope to see in this game:

*A consistent approach throughout the game on offense. In game 4, Ron Artest scored 16 points in the first half on 7-9 shooting. He ended the game, however, with those same 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Early on, Gasol showed flashes of early success in the post and from the shallow wing only to not get as many opportunities as the game progressed. Kobe didn’t score (going 0-7 from the field) in the first half but distributed expertly for 7 assists in those first 24 minutes, only to go off for 17 points in the 2nd half while only tallying 1 additional dime. I’d prefer not see another game with a bipolar approach on offense. The Lakers must commit to running their sets (which do include isolations) and look to get everyone involved early while sticking with that plan throughout the rest of the game. Gasol, Bynum, and Ron could all use consistent touches in the paint to get them going and Kobe – with his bum wheel – could do well for himself by playing the set up man while possessing the ball and looking to move into positions to score while moving off the ball.

*Physical, smart defense on Paul, Ariza, and Landry. These three Hornets are the only players that have any damage on offense over the course of the series. Sure Gray, Jack, and Okafor have all been okay in stretches. But New Orleans’ offense is predicated off these three guys producing if they hope to win. Guarding Paul is not easy, but as Beckley Mason describes, it involves the Lakers getting a little rough:

There’s no magic elixir that can fully neutralize Paul and the New Orleans attack, no cunning tactical trick that will suddenly close the angles that Paul creates, or predict his path in and out of the lane. The Lakers just need to remember that he’s barely six feet tall, and his teammates define the term “Replacement Value.” Touch him, bully him, rotate a few players on him whose only directive is to get in his way, and compete with him for every inch, however menial. That’s the key: multiple players can expend maximum energy to bother Paul, but New Orleans has only one savior.

As for Ariza and Landry, the plan remains the same: make them shoot jumpers. Too often Ariza has been able to work off the dribble to find the painted area. The Lakers must treat him like Rondo – lay off and when he drives sit on his right hand. Ariza has a boat load of confidence right now but that can be a curse too. He has no qualms with firing up a contested 18 footer off the dribble if that’s what’s presented. Present it more, please. Landry, meanwhile has found his success lurking around the paint being nurtured off the scraps that Chris Paul and the other Hornets’ guards feed him. Like a baby chick in a sea of his siblings, Landry is finding creases in the crowd and getting to the front of the line with his mouth open and eating like a king. The Lakers need to more effectively mark him in space and do a better job of cutting off passing angles when the ball is penetrated. An improved job on Paul will help with limiting Landry, but a more active approach to finding and sticking with him in space will too. One match up that we’ve not seen that much is Artest on Landry, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some of it tonight. Ron has the foot speed to stay with Landry and has the strength to keep him from getting to the paint easily. Plus, Ron has the hand quickness to poke the ball away from a big man that relies heavily on off the dribble work to get to the paint. If the Lakers go small tonight, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ron do battle with NO’s power forward.

*Rebound, rebound, rebound. Last year, we often reiterated Pat Riley’s mantra of “no rebounds, no rings”. The Lakers would do well to remember what the old Showtime coach preached. Mind you, I’m not just speaking about the big men here. The Lakers guards must close down the free throw line and chase down long rebounds. We can’t ask Bynum, Gasol, and Odom to gain inside position and battle the Hornets’ bigs for space and then complain when the ball bounces long and a Hornet finds a way to chase down the ball. The Lakers guards can not leak out and mustn’t stand flat footed when the ball comes off the rim. Defensive possessions end with a defensive rebound; chase the ball down to finish the play.

*A better night from Odom. Yesterday I was quite frank about Odom’s lack of production and how it’s hurt this team. And while I stand by the fact that Bynum should be closing games, it doesn’t change the fact that LO likely will be playing in the closing minutes of a tight contest. All year Odom’s been a key performer and in games 2 and 3 his efforts helped secure wins. Tonight, the Lakers will need Odom to perform at those levels; the level that earned him the 6th MOY award. Odom’s long been one of my favorite players and he’s been an underrated player in terms of stepping up in crucial games. Tonight, I’d like to see the rebounding, coast to coast driving, setting up teammates for easy buckets version of LO. He’s certainly got it in him.

Games like these are the ones that championship teams win. The star player is banged up, but he’s played through injury before and knows how to do so smartly. The role players are at home and normally play better in those circumstances. The big men have been up and down but know that they’re the key to winning this series. Tonight the Lakers should put it all together and come out strong. The Hornets aren’t going to give this game away; the Lakers must take it from them. Let’s see them do it tonight.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time locally on Fox Sports West and nationally on TNT.