Archives For April 2011

This wasn’t the Lakers first win of the series, but it was definitely their first win showing flashes of the championship dominance of the previous two seasons. After the Game 2 win, commenter J.D. Hastings said, “Teams that win ugly win titles.” It can also be said that those very same teams also win on the road. The Lakers were able to weather the early Hornets sting with their raucous crowd behind them and come out with a solid 100-86 victory in New Orleans.

In ways that we’ve seen before, Kobe came out of the gate aggressive early. His first two points were off of a short jump shot in the paint, and it seemed to start him off with a nice rhythm that he’d carry the rest of the way.  His next basket was a 12-foot jumper that drew a foul from Chris Paul. He followed that with a nice two-handed jam and a circus layup over his right shoulder which drew a foul on Aaron Gray. Kobe’s offensive aggression was completely opposite of his Game 2 performance, where he dedicated himself to limiting the offense of Chris Paul. The rhythm he was able to establish early on with baskets close to, or at the rim really opened things up for him on the perimeter as the game progressed. Kobe knocked down four of seven three pointers, with two of them being wide open looks to start off the second half.

The Lakers bigs also opened things up for Kobe on the outside with stellar play in the middle. Andrew Bynum made his presence felt, especially in the first half. He finished the half with 13 points and nine rebounds, completely dominating the Hornets on the offensive glass. He was decisive with the ball, confident with his jump hook and patient when things weren’t instantly available. He passed well out of double teams and even found cutting teammates. In the second half it was Pau Gasol who stepped up, finally having his impact on the series show up in the box score with 17 points and 10 rebounds. One of the biggest differences I saw in Gasol’s game tonight was how much more Phil had him moving around. Instead of putting him in one-on-one situations and forcing him to bang bodies with Okafor/Gray/Landry, he was often on the move when he caught passes and was in a position get baskets on quick catch-and-shoot situations or easy layups. The easier buckets early in the game seemed to boost his confidence and we ended up actually seeing a somewhat physical Gasol in the fourth quarter. There was one play in particular where Gasol got the ball at the pinch post, lowered his shoulder and muscled his way through Emeka Okafor for two points.

Finally, the Laker role players stepped up huge. Ron Artest is quietly having a great series. He had his offense going in the first quarter, helping to quiet down that New Orleans crowd. He had a nice post move on Marco Belinelli that resulted in a layup and a nice baseline dunk that got him flexing for the New Orleans crowd. Lamar Odom had a very quiet nine rebounds to go along with his 13 points. The Killer B’s didn’t have great games, but they all contributed in some way. Steve Blake hit a timely three, Shannon Brown had one of his patented base line dunks (and no turnovers!), and Matt Barnes had a nice tip dunk over Jason Smith after a Bynum miss.

Overall, tonight was a solid performance for the Lakers. It’s hard to take anything away from a team that goes on the road and takes care of business in the post season. They were huge on the glass, got good performances from their best players and the roll players kept the lead with the starters on the bench. Pau Gasol had his best offensive night and Andrew Bynum is proving that he’s going to be a problem for the Hornets as this series progresses. I didn’t get into this much (or at all, actually), but the Lakers also played an absolutely fantastic defensive game (more on this in the future). Chris Paul had another very good outing, but the Lakers are figuring out ways to limit how much he’s able to control the game. It wasn’t a perfect night, but there isn’t really much to complain about. They’re back in control of the series with a 2-1 lead and will play Game 4 on Sunday.

When it comes to the playoffs the most important game is the next one. As a series evolves each game becomes the most meaningful for each team as the stakes get raised and elimination is one step closer. Game 3 is no different as it offers both teams an opportunity to take control of this series. For the Hornets this game can put the Lakers on their heels again and give them the leg up with a 2-1 series lead and a crucial game 4 on their home court on Sunday. For the Lakers, this game is the chance to put the series right back in their hands by seizing home court advantage back and continuing the momentum they established in game 2.

In order to capture this all important swing game, some keys I’ll be looking for:

*Sustained effort. If the Lakers had any thoughts about this series being a walk they were quickly erased after getting steamrolled by Chris Paul and crew in game 1. The difficulty this match up poses was only reinforced after a hard fought, physical game 2. In order to win that game, the Lakers needed to play hard the entire game, pushing through rough patches and holding off a feisty Hornets group that made several mini-runs that had the game too close for comfort for most of the 48 minutes. Tonight, the Lakers must bring an even more focused approach and energy to win on the road. The Hornets and their crowd will be bursting with energy and ready to run through brick walls to win this game. The Lakers will need to match that early energy and keep the game close – or better yet take that energy away by starting out fast themselves. This group is experienced in such games and understand the stakes, so I expect them to be prepared. That said, a road environment in the playoffs has the potential to knock even the most poised team off stride. The Lakers will need to dig in their heels, take that initial hit, and then hit back with a sustained effort of their own to pull this game out.

*Defense by committee. In game 2 the Lakers’ better execution of their defensive scheme had a big part in limiting Chris Paul’s success. But another key in (relatively) containing Paul was the fact that the Lakers threw multiple primary defenders at Paul to consistently keep a fresh body on him while also giving him different styles of defense to deal with. Kobe, Fisher, Blake, and Artest all took turns on Paul and in game 3 I expect a similar approach. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Kobe spends chasing Paul over and around screens and denying him off the ball as the energy expended on that side of the ball takes its toll when trying to be effective on the other side, but I do expect to see Kobe strategically play the Hornets’ best player (and really, the best player – so far – in this series) to try and take him out of this game. I also expect to see Blake get more chances on Paul to see if he can duplicate the success he had in game 2. If New Orleans goes to a small line up with a Paul/Jarrett Jack back court, I don’t doubt that we could see Blake/Fisher or Blake/Kobe for extended minutes to match that unit to give Steve his shot. All that said, it will still take a team effort to slow down CP3. The Lakers bigs must stay true to their principles by taking the right angles and not haphazardly give up space to allow Paul to probe his way to the painted area. Bynum, Gasol, and Odom must all be prepared to pounce on drives into the lane and contest the short shots and floaters that Paul thrived on in game 1.

*An aggressive Kobe. Look, we all know that the 10 FGA version of Kobe isn’t long for this series so we might as well embrace that fact right now. In game 1, Kobe came out looking for his shot and carried the Laker offense for long stretches while nearly every one of his teammates faltered. In game 2 he was intent on getting everyone else involved early and while that helped Bynum, Ron, and Odom get going, it – along with his aforementioned approach on defense – also left him grasping for an offensive rhythm of his own that proved elusive. Tonight, I expect to see Kobe find a better balance on offense and that means a more aggressive approach throughout the contest.  He’s already told Phil that he’ll look to put up more than 10 shots, and I could easily see him starting the game in attack mode, looking to get to the basket where he can not only score but set up his teammates. Remember, Kobe has a history of going for the throat in road games and it’s always been his m.o. to try and step up his game when the venues turn hostile. In the Lakers four game 3’s last year he scored 24, 35, 36, and 29 points so it wouldn’t surprise to see him go for a similar number tonight in order to try and take the crowd out of the game while also putting his imprint on the contest. For what it’s worth, I’m fine with this approach. One of Kobe’s best qualities is the fact that he knows the dynamics of a game and a series as well as any great player ever. If he’s able to control this game from the outset, it will go a long way in shaping the rest of this series.

*A productive bench. Game 2 served as a nice reminder of the Lakers depth and how they have multiple players that can affect the game positively. Forget Ron, Bynum, and Odom as they’re essentially starters that play in the shadows of Kobe and Gasol. There’s an expectation that those guys can produce when called upon and game 2 was their time. Tonight, it’s very important that Blake, Barnes, and Brown can also have good games. Blake must continue to get the 2nd unit organized. Barnes must continue to run the floor, slash off the ball, and rebound. And Shannon needs to play within himself, avoid contested jumpers, and attack the basket (I’d love to see him turn the corner in a hand off sequence and simply try to dunk on whoever is in the lane). This has been a bit of a trying year for Brown and like my past critiques a couple of reserve guards that now play in New Jersey, I’ve been a hard critic of him as the season has progressed. But, I still believe that Shannon has good, disciplined ball in him and that he’ll show it in one game soon. Hopefully it’s tonight’s.

The last time the Lakers found themselves in a series tied 1-1 was last year’s Finals. That group went to Boston in that fateful game 3 and pulled out a win down the stretch with the heroics of Derek Fisher sealing the deal. This team knows how important a 2-1 lead in a series is and also understand how a road victory can deflate the opposition to set up how the rest of the series will play out. I have full confidence that the Lakers will be ready to compete and give their all. Here’s to them pulling it out and getting this series back into their hands.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time out west on KCAL and ESPN.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: On two levels, the Lakers’ second unit showed up during the 87-78 Game 2 win over the Hornets. They showed up literally, in that everybody was present and accounted for. Steve Blake was back in uniform after a battle with the chicken pox. And while Matt Barnes participated in Sunday’s loss, he made only a slightly bigger impression than during the final two regular-season games, which he missed because of lingering effects of a recent knee injury. Clearly limited, he played less than nine minutes and without his typically perpetual motion. On Tuesday, however, the small forward actually resembled himself.

From Joe Gerrity, Hornets 24/7: After another poor Hornets performance from the free throw line, one can imagine that Monty had the guys taking extra shots during practice. That would be the right move considering every player besides Landry is shooting below their season average from the line so far in the series. New Orleans has struggled mightily from the line, shooting a mere 66 percent so far in the series in their 65 attempts. On Wednesday they were particularly bad, making only 20 of 32 total (62.5%). During the regular season the team was better, but not great considering how talented Paul is. They shot 76.5 percent (15th in the league), and even if we ignore West from the equation, they wind up at 75 percent. The playoffs, however, have caused problems for a team that otherwise looks rather hardened under their rookie head coach.

From Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood-Strauss, HoopSpeak: Working: The Lakers are never going to shut down Chris Paul, but they did the next best thing: slow him down. They defended Paul with multiple, big defenders like Kobe Bryant and even Ron Artest, then pestered him with Steve Blake, who whore a headband to mask what I can only assume are terrifying chicken pox scars. If Chris Paul is a speedy boxer, the Lakers decided to lean on him all game, hoping to lessen the pop of his punch. Mission accomplished. Paul was able to make a number of outstanding plays, but all the bumps reduced his ability to score and put more of the onus on his less talented teammates. As an added little benefit, the cross-matching also forced Paul to occasionally defend a bigger, stronger player on the other end, sapping his energy even more. Not Working: Boy, what in the world is going on with Pau Gasol? The Hornets are doing a good job of shoving him off his favorite spots, but he should still be able to score effectively against single coverage from the likes of Carl Landry. After all, this is the guy who outplayed Dwight Hoard and Kevin Garnett in consecutive Finals. Bynum buoyed their inside attack, but Los Angeles needs to find ways to get Gasol a couple deep catches, perhaps off of cross screens from Artest or Fisher, instead of “getting him going” by isolating him on the mid block.

From Lee Jenkins, Bobby Corbin was working in the service department at Fry’s Electronics in Manhattan Beach, Calif., when a 7-foot teenager approached the counter. Corbin glanced up at the boy giant’s stubble-free face and assumed he was a college basketball player. Maybe he needed help tricking out his dorm room. “You know how it is with those guys,” Corbin says. “They don’t usually have to do much for themselves.” The kid explained that he was looking for a personal computer, and while Fry’s carries half a dozen brands, he was not interested in any of those. “I want to learn how to build my own,” he said. He rattled off his desired components: a 500-gigabyte hard drive, four gigs of RAM and a graphics card. Corbin was amused and intrigued. He picked out the parts, and as he stood on one side of the counter assembling the machine, his 285-pound customer stood on the other and studied his work. Corbin wondered if this was really a basketball player or just a very tall techie. The next day a Fry’s colleague asked him, “Do you know who that was?” Corbin shook his head. “It’s the new Laker.”

From Wandabap, Silver Screen and Roll: Imagine I gave you the raw box score of the Lakers starters from last night, but withheld the score, except to tell you there was no blowout.  Then you saw that Kobe Bryant scored only 11 points on 3-10 shooting, with 3 rebounds and 2 assists, and that Pau Gasol scored 8 points on 2-10 shooting, and 5 rebounds.  Most likely, you’d think the Lakers lost, right?  For the team’s two best players to score and shoot less than Kobe does himself on any given night, it couldn’t possibly be a good sign, right?  In a Playoff game at that?  In most cases, and probably for any other team in the NBA, it’s the makings of a miserable loss. Instead, the Lakers secondary stars and bench stepped up to carry the night, because they are the deepest, most talented team in the NBA.   This couldn’t happen a year ago.  Or even two years ago.  Bynum wasn’t able to step up and carry the team without being a blackhole.  Lamar wasn’t consistent and confident enough to put the team on his back.  It always fell on Kobe and/or Pau.  The rest of the Lakers fed off of them this time. As time goes on, no longer do they need Kobe or Pau to be All-World to find their own game.  Pau’s slacking?  Andrew raised the intensity. Kobe’s focusing on defending Chris Paul instead of scoring?  Lamar took over the game.

From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: Its all about what we perceive is “valuable”. Kobe’s case for MVP is a clear one. His effect on the game is astounding, the man is always lurking, looking ready to pounce to make another big play. Kobe’s as valuable as he is because he’s put in the work, and has the pedigree of winning. Frankly, it scares the shit out of people, and makes folks refuse to bet against him. Kobe isn’t all that different now than he was when he was putting up 35 a game in ’05, nor is he that different than when he was the #2 guy behind Shaq in their three-peat years to kick off the 00’s. We see Kobe’s value differently now that he’s got a supporting cast worth a damn and he’s gunning for titles again.

From Brian Champlin, Lakers Nation: There’s a look in a player’s eyes that he gets when he knows that he’s the best on the floor. It’s a cool air of confidence. A quiet determination that requires little boasting or demonstrative gesturing. Only the occasional fist pump after a big 3 point play. A glare after securing a tough rebound. Yet believing that you’re the best is no easy feat when you suit up nightly with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. When you’re matched up in the playoffs with possibly the best point guard in the NBA. But on Wednesday night, to the surprise of perhaps everyone but himself, Andrew Bynum had that look. Let’s get this one straight. Without Andrew Bynum the Lakers lose the game and go down 0 – 2 in what could conceivably be one of the biggest first round meltdowns in NBA history. Thankfully, Andrew was exactly where he was needed.

From Emile Avanessian, Hardwood Hype: So while my public suggestion that we’d arrived at the end of the road for the current era of Laker basketball may have been spawned by the frustration and short-sighted anger of an irrational fan, it may not have been totally off base. This is not to suggest that Kobe Bryant’s at the end of the line, or even that his days as a top-tier NBA player are behind him, but the reality- one that’s not very comfortable to think of if for no other reason than it reminds us of our own mortality- is that we’ve entered a stage of the Kobe Bryant that we never did with Magic, one that’s not been seen in Lakerland for nearly 40 years- the long goodbye. For the first time in about four decades, Laker fans are dealing with a (at the time) locally beloved, top-6 all-time player that, while still excellent and capable of playing at a high level for several more years, has slipped noticeably from prime. Where we are now with Kobe is where we would have been with Magic in the 1990s, had his career not been derailed by HIV. We know it would have happened, but never had to see it. With Kobe, we’re actually seeing it.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The Lakers’ most consistent presence through two playoff games has come from an unlikely source, none other than Ron Artest. He’s averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting and 8.5 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per contest, a stark improvement from the numbers he posted in the regular season with a career-low 8.5 points on only 39.7% shooting in 29.4 minutes per game. Artest attributed the turnaround to decreasing his workload of off-court conditioning and shooting exercises since the All-Star break, though he didn’t reveal specifics. “I used to be in the gym a lot,” said Artest, who averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting in 34.6 minutes per game following the All-Star break. “I can’t do it now. You can’t be here shooting and wasting your legs.”

Lastly, I joined ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussion on all of the games being played tonight. You can check that out here.

Last night’s win is still taking up a lot of space in my crowded brain. So with that, I’ve no choice but to spill out random thoughts about the Lakers’ first win of these playoffs…

  • Pau Gasol is taking a lot of heat for his performance so far this series and based off his stat lines and his penchant for shooting turnaround jumpers, I can understand why. Nearly every one expects more from Gasol (myself included) and it’s fair to say that he’s been a disappointment in the first two games. That said, last night I spent nearly the entire final three quarters pleading to my TV for the Lakers to run any sort of action that would put Pau in better position to do damage. Nearly every time the Lakers ran an action for Gasol to get the ball, it involved him moving from weak to strong side without the aid of a screen to make the catch or asked for him to fight for position on the weakside for a post isolation. I’ve come to the conclusion that these plays will not work. Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor are simply stronger than Gasol and are consistently uprooting him and knocking him off his spots. Furthermore, when Pau does make the catch he’s unable to drive by them or back them down without also being bumped off his path (please note, this is not a complaint about the refereeing). All I ask is for someone, anyone, to set a screen for Gasol to give him that extra second to make a catch without a defender draped all over him. Any screen will do. A back screen in Center opposite sets. A cross screen by a cutting wing to bring him to the middle of the key when the strong side post is filled. A rub screen by the guard when Pau makes his catch at the elbow. Any of these actions will work and all of them are basic actions built into the Triangle. I just don’t see the point in telling Pau that the solution to all of his problems are getting lower (to build a stronger base) and working harder. That’s part of the solution, but not all of it. The coaches need to help him help the team.
  • Our old friend Trevor Ariza really hurt the Lakers yesterday. He hit a variety of shots – some unexpected, some not – that really kept the Hornets afloat on offense. And while I understand that a repeat performance isn’t likely, it’s surely possible considering how Trevor did his damage. The Hornets consistently deployed Ariza on the extended wing and had him avoid the short corner. They moved him up high so that in the event that Chris Paul passed him the ball he could either shoot the three in space or attack hard to the middle of the floor to his strong hand. The Lakers wings are going to help off Trevor consistently (as they should) to cut off the lane when Chris Paul drives, but when they recover to Trevor they mustn’t do so in a way that invites the drive. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to surrender open three pointers to Ariza and make him prove he can get hot like it’s 2009. Yesterday he hit 2 of 3 from deep, but can he hit 5 of 7? The Lakers never made him prove it and instead ran out to him only to see him use his dribble to drive right by the close out. In a game of mostly expert defense from the Lakers, this was one area they needed to be better. Hopefully in game 3 and beyond, they will be.
  • Andrew Bynum’s fantastic game was discussed at length in the recap, but one thing I was especially proud of was his singular focus and lack of moping when things didn’t go his way. On one specific play Bynum posted up hard on the ball side only to see the ball swing back the other direction and go into Gasol instead. Pau lost the ball and the Hornets ended up racing the floor the other direction. In season’s past, Bynum – who did not get the post touch he desired earlier in the possession – might have moped back on D and trailed the play. Instead he busted down court in a full sprint and ended up picking off a cross court pass to a man that was in the corner. Big Drew ran nearly baseline to baseline to grab a steal on a pass that the Hornets only made because they thought it was open. Bynum erased that opening with pure hustle and desire. It was a single play in a series of sloppiness from both sides and likely won’t be remembered by anyone when the playoffs are over. But it stood out to me. Our guy has come a long way in the past 18 months.
  • I’m a believer in statistics and how they can be used to further analyze the game. I respect metrics like PER, on/off stats, pace based efficiency numbers, and all the insight that can be gleaned from them. That said, last night a Laker scored 0 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, handed out 5 assists (to 2 turnovers), had no steals or blocks, but had a major impact on the game. Steve Blake may not have given the Lakers much on the stats page (save for the team high in assists that were a strong tangible contribution), but his organization of the Lakers sets, his ability to involve his teammates on offense, his desire to push the ball up court, and his scrappiness on defense were all key ingredients to the win. I know that for many Blake has not been the guy we’d hoped in terms of numbers provided and stats accumulated. But last night he gave his team a shot in the arm. He made a difference. I’m very happy that he’s back.
  • I’m really hopefull that Shannon Brown can find his stride at some point these playoffs. His good to bad possessions ratio has been steadily moving in the wrong direction and I’d love for him to find a way to reverse the trend. His last couple months of action could be perfectly summed up by the sequence where he sunk a three pointer after a great two man game of post entries and kick outs, only to come down the next possession and jack up an extremely suspect long jumper. Maybe I should stop holding out hope, but I have to think he can find some sort of rhythm to his game this post-season. The Lakers will need him.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: In Game 1, Bynum never gave himself an opportunity to make an impact, because he was saddled with foul trouble. Wednesday night, he solved that problem, and was arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers. Offensively, Bynum was extremely aggressive, whether facing up on Aaron Gray with short jumpers, or working on the block. In one outstanding second quarter sequence, Bynum used a nice baby hook to score on one end, hustled back in time to gain position on Emeka Okafor for a rock solid defensive rebound, then worked his way back through the lane at the other end, fielding a terrible lob from Shannon Brown, gathering and finishing for the and-one.

From J.A. Adande, Daily Dime: Lamar Odom made things easier on the media than the Lakers have made things for themselves lately. You know, the old “Player receives award, then proves why he got it” angle. The Sixth Man of the Year giving the Lakers the boost off the bench they needed was one of the only things that worked for them offensively Wednesday night. That and Andrew Bynum. They combined for 33 of the Lakers’ points in their 87-78 Game 2 victory over the Hornets on a night Kobe Bryant scored 11 points and Pau Gasol once again couldn’t establish himself inside. So the Lakers are tied 1-1 in this first-round series even though they haven’t regained their stride, haven’t dictated how these games will be played, haven’t even given their coach a clue about what to expect from them. “Who knows?” Jackson said. “Who knows how we’re going to react to the next game?”

From Michael McNamara, Hornets 247: For three days, the focus has been on whether or not the Lakers could get Pau Gasol more involved, while few mentioned the subpar showings Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum had in the first game of this series. Pau struggled yet again in game two, but the Lakers evened the series with the Hornets due to the immensely efficient performances by Bynum and the newly crowned 6th man of the year Lamar Odom. The two combined for 33 points on 16 of 23 shooting in LA’s 87-78 victory over the Hornets. The focus for LA was clear from the start, as they made every effort to get the ball into the post on the opening possessions. Bynum got the ball early and often, as he was successful in both scoring on the low block and in getting Emeka Okafor into foul trouble. Much like the first game, Okafor picked up two fouls early on and spent almost all of the first half on the bench. While Bynum was a beast on the block, Odom provided the spark that the Lakers so desperately needed. Down by as many as eight late in the first quarter, Odom came in and scored 6 points during a 9-1 Lakers run that tied the score at 23 after one quarter.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: When the Lakers were tearing through the league after the All-Star break, piling up signature wins one after the next, their identity was grounded in defense. The rise of Andrew Bynum transformed the champs’ halfcourt D into an instrument of cruelty and suffocation. But they fell into some bad habits as the regular season drew to a close, and in Game One of their playoff series against the Hornets, their defensive performance could scarcely have been worse. Disorganized, a step slow both mentally and physically, they were embarrassed by Chris Paul and his usually unremarkable supporting crew. To even the series at one victory apiece, Phil Jackson had to spend the past few days reinstalling discipline, aggression and sound technique at the defensive end of the floor. His efforts, we saw tonight, were a success.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: It may not have looked like it, not with Pau Gasol being called “soft” every time he tried to force a shot through Aaron Gray and Trevor Ariza, or Kobe Bryant airballing shots late on his way to a 3-10 shooting night, but the Lakers have righted this ship. We don’t know how long this will last, it could be shot to pieces by Game 3, but this is a step in the right direction. For one, they forced Chris Paul to the baseline. This has been Phil Jackson’s modus operandi with point guards for years, and not only did the quick help and push force Paul out of his initial wants and needs with the ball, it effectively forced him out of the play. Because the Hornets take so long to get into their sets, two passes following the trap the ball would be in Trevor Ariza’s hands with the shot clock winding down, and Paul would be stuck on the baseline like some sort of Eddie House-type. Not the MVP-type that owned Game 1.

From John Krolik, Pro Basketball Talk: It wasn’t pretty, but the Los Angeles Lakers were able to even up their series against the New Orleans Hornets with relative ease. The Hornets were able to shock the Lakers in Game 1 because Los Angeles failed in two fundamental areas: they didn’t establish their big men on offense, and they didn’t contain Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls. On Wednesday, Phil Jackson showed why he has more rings as a head coach than he has fingers; he knows how to make adjustments. Before the game, Jackson said that the Lakers defended “more than half” of the 70 screen-rolls the Hornets ran on Sunday incorrectly, which allowed Chris Paul to run amok. In Game 2, the Lakers were able to keep Paul in check by putting bigger defenders on him (Kobe Bryant started the game on Paul, and Ron Artest even guarded him for a few possessions), putting the quicker Steve Blake on him for a stretch, and trapping him effectively to make him give up the ball:

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers NationUnlike Game 1 where the Lakers did not often pass the ball to their big men down low, the team was making a more of an effort to feed the ball in the paint. The Lakers’ front-court got a break when Hornets’ center Emeka Okafor had to leave the game due to two foul, and this allowed Bynum and Gasol to dominate the paint. Five of the Lakers’ first six shots were attempted in the paint, and the team’s two seven footers were demanding the ball. Nevertheless, the Lakers were not playing their best on the defensive end and most of the energy was being used trying to find shots. At the 7:00 mark of the second quarter, the Lakers held a mere one point lead, 11-10. The team was trying to get its big men more involved, but in the process players like Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest were ostracized from the offense. In addition, the Lakers had yet to find an answer for Chris Paul, who was able to break down the defense and find open shots for himself and his teammates. And as the quarter progressed, the Lakers’ offense became stagnant and the players were unable to knock down open shots. Derek Fisher had five good, open looks from the field but he only hit one shot. With the Lakers’ deep shot attempts, the Hornets were able to run in transition and catch the Lakers’ off-guard.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: For much of the Lakers’ first two playoff games, Pau Gasol has looked lost on offense, his usual dominating inside play having gone astray. The situation isn’t lost on the Lakers forward, though. He sees what everyone else sees on the court,  sees what everyone else sees on the box score. He has made just four of 19 shots in two games against a much smaller New Orleans Hornets team and can’t quite figure out why. But he certainly is not feeling sorry for himself. “No, it’s not great, it’s not usual for me. But I think it’s hopeful. I can’t shoot worse than I’m shooting now,” Gasol said, finding a small bright spot. “So, if I get myself aggressive out there, watch some tape and get batter looks. it will improve. “And I can continue to contribute.”
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers showed up later than their fans Wednesday, a stunner on its own. But they avoided another indignity despite a mountain of ominous signs, managing to hold off the New Orleans Hornets, 87-78, in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant had unbelievably bad nights, but the Lakers still evened the best-of seven series at Staples Center. If not for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, they’d be morosely pondering a two-game deficit on their Thursday afternoon flight to New Orleans, where Games 3 and 4 take place this weekend. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson might want to bring along some more sage to burn. The inconsistency that plagued the Lakers throughout the regular season continued to linger. Another spiritual cleansing might be in order.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With the Staples Center crowd cheering during each swing of momentum as if it were an elimination game, Lakers forward Lamar Odom stepped onto center court. He had just accepted the award as the NBA’s sixth man of the year, but it’s conceivable that the enthusiasm also represented a boost of support to a team that played Game 1 of its first-round playoffs match-up against New Orleans with the intensity of a regular-season game in mid-January. The scene provided a good illustration of Phil Jackson’s motivational tactic Wednesday during morning shootaround that the announcement of Odom’s award a day before Game 2 served one specific purpose. “The reason that they made sure Lamar had this award was this could be the last time he plays today in front of his whole team,” Jackson said with a smile. “They want to make sure that award gets to them at the right time and to go out and prove them wrong.”

This was a game that the Lakers needed to have and they got it. If you’re looking for a single positive from another hard fought, ugly game there you go. In the playoffs it’s quite rare for things to come easy and this game was further proof of that. But the Lakers – as a team – came through tonight, evening the series at one game a piece by defeating the Hornets 87-78.

And it really was a team effort. Because on this night it wasn’t only Pau Gasol that couldn’t find his groove on offense, but Kobe Bryant as well. Neither of the Lakers’ best players could effectively crack the code of the Hornet defense, making only 5 of the 20 shots they combined to take for a grand total of 19 points. Gasol continued to get pushed off his spots by the physical Hornets’ big men, consistently getting stood up on back down attempts and cut off when he tried to drive to the hoop. The result was several forced jumpers and open complaints to the referees that went unheard with his frustration only rising as the game progressed. His only saving grace on offense was his ability to tally 5 offensive rebounds – including several big volleyball taps out in the final period – but those 5 rebounds also represented his total for the game (meaning he didn’t grab a single defensive rebound). Needless to say, Pau is still looking for anything resembling a solid game in these young playoffs.

As for Kobe, he wasn’t much better as a scorer than Gasol, though #24 did work the game in other ways. He mostly played the distributor role early and looked to get everyone involved. He quickly moved the ball within the flow of the offense, often making the simple pass on to an open teammate rather than trying to force the action. His two assists really don’t do his night justice as he easily had a handful more hockey assists in the game. And even though Kobe’s shot wasn’t falling, I was quite happy that he continued to attack the basket and looked to get shots right at the rim. The Hornets did a good job contesting his shots at the rim and Kobe had a few shots just fall off the cylinder (as well as some plays where he could have earned a whistle) and his lack of success was as much about bad luck as anything else.

Where Kobe and Pau fell short, other Lakers stepped up. Andrew Bynum had a team high 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. He used his monstrous frame to camp at the low block, call for the ball, and do damage against Okafor and Aaron Gray. When he wasn’t banging in the post, he faced up well and shot a sweet 15 foot jumper to keep the defense honest. Lamar Odom also had a very good offensive game, pouring in 16 points of his own on 8-12 from the floor. The aggressive Odom that was missing in game 1 was back for all to see tonight, as the Lakers’ lanky lefty got back to slashing and driving his way to the rim for finishes at the cup. Several times Odom went coast to coast after securing a rebound and effectively maneuvered around whatever Hornet stood in his path to get to the bucket and finish with skill and grace. Just a splendid all around offensive game from Lamar on the night that the NBA honored him with his 6th MOY trophy. LO’s Queensbridge brother also had another very good outing. Artest simply did a bit of everything as his line of 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 each of assists/steals/blocks can attest. He played under control, attacked the offensive glass, moved well within the flow of the offense, and did so many little things that help a team win games.

Beyond those big names, the Lakers bench also played very well. Steve Blake’s return clearly helped the group as his steadiness and desire to organize the 2nd unit helped settle down a group that was erratic on Sunday. With Blake doing the majority of the ball handling, Shannon Brown was able to play more within himself (at least for the most part) and not force too many looks the way he did in game 1. Matt Barnes also benefited from the return of Blake, as his slashing off the ball was better rewarded with the ball movement that’s been missing of late. On one possession Blake had an open 15 footer but turned it down to instead hit a cutting Barnes in stride, setting him up for a short floater.

Beyond the stronger play on offense though, where the Lakers really won this game was on defense. As a team the Hornets only shot 39% while also turning the ball over 16 times. The Lakers pressured ball handlers, got into passing lanes, deflected passes, and used active hands to consistently disrupt the Hornets’ sets. The difference between the Lakers’ effort on D tonight vs. what was provided on Sunday was like night and day.

As was the Lakers defense on Chris Paul. While CP3 still had a 20 point, 9 assist outing (great numbers, really) tonight he was successfully bottled up, save for a couple of buzzer beating three pointers. The Lakers threw multiple defenders at Paul, hedged and recovered on P&R’s, and contested his every move on the court much better than in game one. This is where Kobe gets some extra credit as well, as he was great in picking up Paul early in the half court and then denying him the ball after he passed to a teammate. Sure Kobe committed some silly fouls and gave up some easy drives by pressuring a bit too much but overall #24 deserves a lot of credit for taking the challenge of guarding Paul and helping to limit him the way that he did. As does Steve Blake. Though he only saw limited minutes on Paul, I thought Blake defended him best in one on one and P&R situations. Blake successfully fought over screens, stayed connected to his body, and didn’t get blown by once when matched up with Paul. On Blake’s 1st defensive possession vs. Paul he chased him around a screen, created an isolation situation with the clock running down, and then forced a long jumper (that he contested expertly) that missed badly. Overall, Blake showed why Phil was so high on him coming back tonight.

Overall though, it was the big men that truly get the round of applause when it comes to the defensive effort. Bynum was great at controlling the paint, contesting shots at every turn and fouling when he needed to prevent an easy basket. Gasol was also much better on D tonight, sliding his feet and sticking with ball handlers for longer stretches to allow the Laker guards to recover back without getting beat or giving up uncontested jumpers. When both bigs were in the game together they not only helped slow the Hornets P&R attack but also limited the Hornets’ bigs to 21 points on 22 shots, creating a big hole in their offense that was sorely needed. Just a great overall showing by LA’s trio of bigs tonight.

In the end, this game wasn’t pretty but it was a win. The physicality and low scoring nature of the game made it very difficult to watch in stretches but by coming out on top I can’t complain at all. And while there are still several things to improve going into Friday’s contest, I must say I’m encouraged that things will get better. I have faith that Gasol will start to turn his game around and I’m hopeful that the Lakers can continue to build on their success against Paul and the P&R. One win down, three more to go.

The Lakers have had ample time to stew over their game 1 effort. They got a healthy heaping of film study to go over what went wrong and have had time to reset their focus on what needs to be done. In that same vain, we’ve talked adjustments on both sides of the ball on some of the things that we’d like to see.

Beyond adjustments though, the central theme for this game isn’t so much doing radical things that are different, but rather doing the things that they were supposed to do the last game better; doing them with an effort level and precise focus that actually makes achieving them realistic.

That means going harder and smarter every minute of the game. No more blown assignments on the P&R. No more half assed cuts and screens to get players open. No more forced jumpers as players run around disorganized on the back side of the formation. The Lakers must clean up the little things tonight to get back on track.

Besides getting back to basics however, there are larger trends that the team also needs to be aware of. A couple things I’m looking for:

*The Lakers need to better control the pace of the game. If you went strictly by the numbers, you’d think this point is a non-issue. There were 90.4 possessions in game one and on the season the Lakers’ average was 90.7 (both numbers from basketball-reference). But, if you re-watch the game, you’ll notice that the Hornets actually pushed the ball extremely well and got into their offensive sets quickly. With Paul and Jack rushing the ball up court, they were able to get the Laker bigs on their heels and out of position for the initial P&R action that proved the difference in the game. The Laker bigs must do a better job of not retreating all the way to the rim when transitioning back and instead stay closer to the foul line in order to bump big men that run post lane sprints to the front of the rim. Setting up higher put the bigs in better position to defend the high P&R while simultaneously building a wall should the Hornets’ guards try to attack the rim in isoloation.

The flip side of this point on pace is that the Lakers also need to get into their offensive sets quicker. Too often the Hornets were able to pressure the ball full court with no release valves in place to take advantage of their extended defense. This forced the Lakers’ ball handler to go the length of the floor against tight defense, using too much of the shot clock to advance the ball and leaving precious little time to run the actions of their sets. If you want to know why there were so many shots that seemed to come off the 1st or 2nd pass in the half court, some of that was due to the fact that the shot clock was already winding down to the 10 second mark on so many possessions. An offense is much easier to defend when working against the clock (especially true for a multi-read offense like the Triangle) and the Lakers must do better in avoiding these situations tonight.

*The Lakers must also get back to hitting the offensive glass. Ron Artest was a beast on the O-glass tallying 5 in game 1. The rest of the Laker team only grabbed 4, with the Bynum/Gasol/Odom triumvirate combining for a single offensive rebound. This needs to change tonight. The activity level when attackng the glass needs to be higher and the Lakers need to put themselves in position to go get those rebounds by running cleaner offensive sets. Better work off the ball will free up lanes to the rim and the Laker bigs need to understand that fighting for post position has the dual benefit of getting them closer to the rim to grab errant shots. (As an aside, hitting the offensive glass effectively will also help in containing the Hornets’ early offensive work that I raised in the first bullet point. By forcing the Hornets bigs and guards stay home contesting rebounds, run outs and the ability to push pace reduce greatly.)

*Better bench production is a must. Having Steve Blake back will hopefully help as he’s a player that consistently runs the offense, looking for his teammates both on the wing and in the post to get them going. His pesky defense and penchant for pressuring the ball should also slow down the Hornets’ offense. Lamar Odom was just crowned 6th man of the year and tonight’s a great time to remind everyone of why he won in a landslide. Odom’s ability to rebound and push the ball are needed ingredients against a Hornets team that doesn’t have a counter to the things that he does well. Getting LO going to the rim in the open court and slashing off the ball when Kobe and Gasol are isolated in the post and elbow will be very much needed tonight.

I don’t need to explain the importance of this game. A loss puts the Lakers in a nearly untenable position where the combination of road games and reduced margin for error not only decrease their likelihood of andvancing, it also cuts into their ability to win future rounds. The term “must win” was coined for games like this just because of what the opposite result would mean to the team. It’s time to even up this series and get back on the right track.

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

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As frustrating as it was to watch Paul carve up the Lakers’ D, it’s expected to some degree. CP3 is a master at keeping games on a string and his dribble alive, then picking teams apart. The Lakers have proved capable of better work against Paul during the regular season — and despite popular belief, against the pick-and-roll all season — but over (now) 5-7 games, Paul will periodically own them. Having said that, if Paul doesn’t have the ball, his ability to wreak havoc drops considerably. Upon a rewind, it was evident how easily Paul typically got the ball back upon passing off. That must stop, and two possessions illustrated how much less effective the Hornets are with somebody else running the show. Up 14-12 in the first quarter, New Orleans took the ball out after Andrew Bynum’s made free throw and Derek Fisher picked up Paul with full-court pressure. Unable to inbound to the All-Star, Emeka Okafor was forced to go in Marco Belinelli’s direction. From there, Fisher did an outstanding job denying passes back to CP3, which left Belinelli and Trevor Ariza touching the ball. Ariza ended up at the line after a fouled missed dunk. I’ll take Ariza forced to slash and create — even with the two freebies — all day over Paul controlling the action.

From Dexter Fishmore, SB Nation: For an NBA fan, there’s little that’s more irksome than seeing your team drop Game One of a playoff series at home. Not only do you find yourself immediately behind the eight ball, but the gap between games means you have to spend multiple days digesting what went wrong before the Game Two palate cleanser is served. In the case of Laker fans, they’ve spent the 48-plus hours since the end of the champs’ 100 to 108 loss to the New Orleans Hornets pondering endless variations on the following themes:

From Joon Kim, Triangle Offense: Here the Hornets show some full court pressure.  The Lakers run a center opposite to counter.  Usually, the center stays opposite to set a rub screen for the weakside wing.  In this case the center, Andrew Bynum, has to be mindful that his weakside wing is new teammate Trey Johnson and it would be better for Bynum to go over instead of Johnson.  As Bynum’s teammates start yelling at him to go Kobe’s impatience gets the better of him and he launches a three.  Luckily the Lakers get an offensive rebound and end the possession with a score.

From Michael McNamara, Hornets 24/7: Yes, the Hornets played fantastic basketball for several stretches of the game, but there is much that they can improve on going into Game 2. As Chuck would say, they could “make their, make their, make their, make their free throws.” Forget free throws, maybe in this game Trevor Ariza could set a lofty goal of hitting 40% of his shots- and reach it! Does anybody really think that the Hornets best defensive player, Emeka Okafor, will only get 22 minutes again and/or grab just 2 rebounds? And how about we flip that around. Anybody expecting another 60 foot Artest heave to drop? The truth of the matter is that both teams are capable of playing better, and quite frankly, both teams are also capable of playing worse. The key to this game will come down to the adjustments that each coach makes going into this game and how well they are able to adjust as the game progresses.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, Hang Time: In both accurate assessment and understatement, Lamar Odom said the individual recognition, any individual recognition, has been long in coming. Correct. It has been a long time. As in forever. Until Tuesday, when the Lakers forward was announced as the landslide winner of Sixth Man of the Year, one of the league’s most versatile, unique unusual and most skilled players had never been singled out for official praise. Through all the important roles on very successful teams, Odom had never won an award or made an All-Star team. So the honor had special significance even for someone who has reached the ultimate heights of championships, the last two seasons with the Lakers and in summer 2010 with Team USA at the world championships. Odom did not take being named the top reserve for granted. If anything, he was deeply touched by the moment, choking up with emotion in his acceptance speech at a hotel ballroom in Los Angeles as he appeared to reference family members he has lost through the years, including an infant son.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: Lamar Odom choked back tears Tuesday as he stood at the podium in front of family members, several Lakers teammates and media. As he stared at the NBA Kia Sixth Man of the Year trophy, Odom suddenly was flooded with childhood memories, days of bringing home trophies that he would proudly show his late grandmother, Mildred Mercer. Odom’s mother, Cathy, died of colon cancer when he was 12 years old and Mercer took him in. His grandmother died in 2003. “Coming home on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and bringing that trophy home to my grandmother … she would look forward to it. So this is one more trophy that I get to bring home,” said Odom, who received 515 of a possible 585 points, including 96 of a possible 117 first-place votes from media members. Odom became the first Lakers player to receive the Sixth Man of the Year award, beating out Dallas’ Jason Terry, who was a distant second with 244 points and 13 first-pace votes.

From Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, LA Times: How now, Pau? These have been grueling days for Pau Gasol, sautéed in almost every possible media format, second-guessed for his surprisingly ineffective playoff opener against New Orleans and blamed for everything but the destruction of the Roman Empire. So what did he offer after several minutes of probing questions from reporters Tuesday? A pleasantry. “See you guys,” he said, smiling. “Have a nice day.” It was a typical reaction from one of the NBA’s kindest players, and it came after he publicly reassured many factions (himself, his teammates, Lakers fans) that he wouldn’t be a pushover Wednesday in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series.

Lastly, I joined’s 5-on-5 series with the likes of Royce Young, Andrew McNeill, Joe Gerrity, and Maurice Brooks. We talk Lakers/Hornets, plus the two other Western Conference playoff series that are being played tonight. You can check that out here.