Archives For April 2011

In yesterday’s post, Darius touched on a few things that might help get Pau Gasol going on the offensive end of the floor. Today, we’re going to concern ourselves with the defensive end of the floor, and more specifically, the pick and roll. We knew coming into this series that Chris Paul was going to give the Lakers some issues, but no one expected his 33-point, 14 assist outburst. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to completely stop Chris Paul, but a few minor adjustments will definitely help slow him and the Hornets down.

First and foremost, the Lakers need to pay attention to detail. I mentioned this in our series preview “When the Hornets Have the Ball”. On the second video of that post, Pau Gasol started hedging on a screen before Chris Paul ever made a decision on which way he was going to go. Naturally, Paul went opposite of Pau and got in the lane for a layup. We can see the same things happening here. Check this photo.


What we see here is Carl Landry setting a screen on Derek Fisher’s left side, yet Pau Gasol is hedging on his right side. Not only did Pau make his decision to hedge too early, but he hedged on the least logical side. P&R offense 101 teaches us that, if possible, the ball handler takes the screen on the side that the screen is being set on. So even if Pau wants to show earlier than he should, he should at least be showing on the side with the greatest chance in disrupting the play. Furthermore, even if that is too hard to decide, the Lakers want to keep Chris Paul out of the middle of the lane, so he should have hedged on Fisher’s left regardless. Instead, he hedged on the right side and Paul was able to get all the way in the lane for a layup.

The following is a prime example of how the Lakers should defend Paul in the P&R. On this play I noticed a few things. First, as the screen is being set, Andrew Bynum doesn’t get sucked out of the lane and leave the middle open for Chris Paul to drive. I think just this minor detail alone will help the Lakers tremendously. Chris Paul is most dangerous when he drives to the middle of the lane, so of the big takes that away initially and moves his feet enough to contest a jumper on the wing or long enough for the guard to recover, it will take away a lot of the good looks Paul ether got himself or created for others. The second thing I noticed was that once Bynum realized that he was going to have to defend Paul, he committed to moving his feet instead of defending with his arms. Pau didn’t do this very well in game one and was not only beat off the dribble by Paul, but Carl Landry a few times as well. Your size or athletic ability has nothing to do with your ability to move your feet. Sure, Bynum isn’t anywhere near as fast as Paul (CP3 just blows right by him), but Paul isn’t nearly as tall or as long as any of the Lakers bigs. Bynum used his distinct advantage against Paul’s and was rewarded with a block. If he didn’t move his feet, it would have been a Paul layup, a Bynum foul, or both. Lastly, he contested without fouling. The Hornets made 17 free throws in the fourth quarter, with too many of them coming after And-1’s. If they’re going to make shots over the Lakers length, good for them, but no need to make the problem bigger by fouling.

Of everyone who suited up for the Lakers on Sunday, I was most impressed with Bynum on the defensive end. However, I had one issue with him. There were several occasions where ‘Drew would allow himself to get sealed down low as a guard drove the lane, preventing him from contesting layups. It began early with Omeka Okafor sealing off Bynum early in the game, and it continued with Aaron Gray once and even with DJ Mbenga on this play. Take a look at the picture below, Andrew Bynum is in great position to help if Chris Paul somehow gets into the lane. He’s sitting right in the middle of the paint, preventing any dribble penetration, and is in a great position to slide over and protect anyone coming from either of the wings.


However, look what happens after Mbenga rolls. He doesn’t go to the basket, but instead goes to Bynum and starts backing him down. Chris Paul comes in right behind Mbenga and tosses in a little floater for the easy deuce. At this point, ‘Drew needs to immediately recognize that Mbenga probably has the least threat to score on the floor for the Hornets, and fight for that position. The Lakers clear size advantage puts them in a position to where they can front in the post whenever they want without worrying about getting beat over the top. Instead, the Lakers, and Bynum specifically, repeatedly allowed the Hornets bigs to get in front of them and free up the rim for floaters and layups.

Another adjustment the Lakers absolutely need to make is getting into help side when two or more passes away. On this play, we see a rare P&R where one of the Hornets perimeter players comes over to set the screen for Kobe, meaning that there should be at least one big in the middle. However, there is no one in the middle and Paul is able to get all the way to the rim uncontested. Check out the photo below. Chris Paul has just made his move off of the screen toward the rim and look where everyone is located. Fish and Kobe were the ones guarding the ball and the screener on this play, meaning that Kobe was one pass away and did not necessarily need to be in help side. However, everyone else was supposed to have slid away from the guy they were guarding to help in case of penetration.


If there were a line drawn right down the middle of the key, that’s where Pau should have been standing, at the very least, before Paul even mad his move toward the basket. Instead Pau recognizes that Chris Paul is driving late and doesn’t start rotating until Paul is only one stride away from the basket. If Pau was in help side (or anyone else for that matter), the distance he would have had to travel to contest that layup would have been cut significantly, and he might have prevented Paul from driving all together.

One last thing that I noticed was that the Lakers guards didn’t always do the greatest job in fighting through screens. I’ve talked a lot about what the bigs need to do better to help guard Paul, but the guards need to essentially “help the bigs help them.” Here’s Darius with a few words on the matter:

So I went into Synergy and saw one trend that really stood out to me. Well two, actually.

First, nearly every successful P&R that the Hornets ran targeted Gasol as the hedge man. Sadly, Gasol’s feet looked like they were stuck in concrete. He had an awful time in the lay back and contest the mid range strategy and was even worse in his attempts to hedge and recover. He often got caught flatfooted and served as nothing more than one of those cut outs that guys dribble around in the “skills challenge”. What made things worse was how often the Laker guards got hung up on screens – either because they got completely picked off or decided to lay on the screener (4:29 in the 4th is a good example w/ Kobe on him) forcing switches because the guard could never recover.

I looked into the play that Darius was talking about and saw that, not only was Kobe picked off by that screen, but he did little to get through the screen. Chris Paul recognized that Kobe wasn’t coming and immediately took the step back over Gasol (who actually defended that play exactly the way you’d want him to, CP3 just made a fantastic shot). If guards aren’t going to fight through screens, than it will continually put the Lakers bigs in situations that aren’t favorable for the team.

Finally, Darius had two suggestions on how to defend the Hornets P&R sets:

First is giving Paul the Steve Nash treatment. Make him a scorer by going under screens and having the big man lay off to tempt the jumper. Have the big lay off at an angle where he can hopefully cut off the driving lane while also taking away the dive pass to the rolling big man. If Paul is scoring the hope is that he’s not handing out double digit assists. While this strategy has its limitations (Paul is so good with the ball, he’s very likely to just keep a live dribble to either force the switch or back the ball back out to run the P&R again to force the Lakers to defend for even longer), I think it could be worth a try.

The second tactic is to play the normal scheme of a soft hedge with the guard fighting over the top, but for the big man to take a shallower angle in order to take away the middle drive and force Paul to string out his dribble (or even better hesitate with a stationary dribble). With this strategy however, the Laker guards need to fight over the screen hard and not get knocked off their trail position as easily. This will allow them to recover back to Paul without hanging their big man out to dry. Obviously, any success with this tactic will depend on Gasol (and Bynum) proving capable of sliding with and at least momentarily containing Paul off the bounce to give everyone a chance to recover into their proper positioning.

The Lakers can take a little solace in knowing that, when they defended the Hornets the right way, they did a great job in Game 1. Brian Kamenetzky of Land O’ Lakers noted, “despite Sunday’s P’n’R carnage, the Lakers still found reason to be encouraged by their system itself, assuming it can be executed properly. By [Chuck] Person’s unofficial count (he didn’t have his numbers in front of him), the Lakers held the Hornets around 30 percent shooting on pick-and-roll sets defended properly.” Meaning, the Lakers know how to get it done, they just didn’t do a great job in executing their game plan. I expect a more sharp defensive effort tomorrow night, if not, Chris Paul could end up with another huge game.

While it’s not yet official, it’s being reported that Lamar Odom will be named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year later today. This is great news and I’m thrilled for Lamar being recognized for his fantastic season. His statistics speak for themselves, but even more impressive to these eyes has been his ability to shift between starter and reserve and fully embrace whatever role is thrown at him, all while playing top flight basketball for the entire season.

It’s been said many times over, but Odom really is the glue to this Laker team. He’s a leader, the bridge between the starters and the reserves, and probably the most beloved teammate in the Laker locker room. His ability to stay grounded and always do what’s best for the team shows a selflessness that is very much needed on a team where a precious few consistently get the accolades even though everyone contributes to the success of the group. His humble nature only reinforces the sacrifice that is a requirement on any team expected to contend for the championship. In a way, he’s been the most consistent Laker and could easily be described as indispensable. Not too shabby for a guy that some questioned would ever live up to his potential on this team.

And while I wish Odom could have also gotten that coveted all-star berth that’s eluded him his entire career, this award isn’t such a bad consolation. It only reaffirms his value to this team and shines a light on how consistently good he’s been this year as a key cog to the team’s success. So, again, a big congrats to my favorite lefty. He earned this award with a stellar campaign. Now, there’s only one more piece of hardware to win (and I’m sure he’d trade today’s trophy for that other one handed out in June).

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: First things first: The Lakers are neither scared of, nor unaccustomed to, defending the pick and roll. “Most teams see it as our weak point,” Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person told me Monday after practice in El Segundo. “For instance, the second game we played in San Antonio, they ran 79 pick and rolls. So we know what that system is. We know [Hornets] Coach [Monty] Williams played in that system. He coached in it. I was his teammate in San Antonio. He went to Portland, and they run a lot of pick and rolls up there as well, so he carried it over to New Orleans.” “We knew coming in that we were going to face Chris Paul and the pick and roll,” Person continued. “Over the course of this year when we played New Orleans, I don’t think it was a concern. It’s only a concern if you do things improperly, or out of the system that we determine is best [for us].”

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed back reserve point guard Steve Blake to practice Monday after being away from the team for a week with chicken pox. And they might just have found their secret weapon to stopping Chris Paul in their first round, best-of-seven series against the New Orleans Hornets that the Lakers trail 1-0. “[I’ll] sweat on him a little bit,” joked Blake. He is no longer considered contagious and was cleared by a doctor on Monday morning before reporting to practice. “[The Lakers] didn’t tell me I had to, but I wanted to be 100-percent sure,” said Blake, sporting a fresh white head band that covered up some of the fading pox marks that could be seen dotting his face, neck and arms as he spoke to reporters while wearing his practice uniform.

From Stephen A. Smith, ESPNLA: At some point, all things that evolve around the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t about the game’s preeminent star with five rings, a coach with 11 rings, a franchise desperately hunting for ring No. 17 or a city showing zero interest in achieving anything less. There comes a point when it’s time to get down and dirty, when nastiness usurps friendship, decorum or the proverbial team-first mentality — in an effort to win playoff games. And if that time has not arrived for Pau Gasol, perhaps he needs to grab a sleeping bag, call Kobe Bryant and tell the franchise player to make room: The Bryant household’s about to have a new guest for a few days. Perhaps just dinner will do. Maybe it will require a wakeup call at dawn, along with one of those 5:30 a.m. workout sessions.

From Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopsSpeak: I saw New Orleans beat LA, and knew it couldn’t last. The series is a foregone conclusion, so this game is what I’m taking. The playoffs are replete with thrilling memories of losers who staved off the inevitable, if only for two days. Cherish just the title winner, and you’re ignoring the best parts. Had I decided to skip Hornets-Lakers, I would have missed the return of Chris Paul’s life affirming majesty. I would have missed the kind of memory that will, one day, trigger a powerful nostalgia. I know this because visions of Chris Paul versus the Mavericks launch me back to 2008. An entire day lives on in my mind–the breakfast, the smells, the conversations–because CP3 threw a bounce pass. The pass was thrown on a fast break and it quickly morphed into a dribble. Backspin somehow tricked the ball into going back towards Chris in the opposite direction from which it was thrown. Jason Kidd’s confused body crumbled as a layup happened. My friend did something of an involuntary jig as we replayed the magic on DVR, again and again.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: At some point during what is still expected to be a deep postseason run, despite an inauspicious start in the form of a Game One loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Pau Gasol will play like the hyper-efficient, uber-smart, insanely talented seven footer that he is.  Maybe it will be for a game, maybe a week.  Maybe he’ll do it for an entire series.  If the Lakers do manage to patch up their holes long enough to reel in a third straight championship, there will undoubtedly be a period in which Pau Gasol is the best player on the team.  People will see this and think “Wow, that guy is amazing … he never gets the credit he deserves.” They will see his efficiency, throw it up in comparison with Kobe Bryant’s lack of the same quality, and come to a very logical conclusion that perhaps Pau Gasol deserves any individual accolades that come with being a part of a great team.  This post is for those people.  Please ingrain this message, and yesterday’s game, in your memory.

From Nima Zarrabi, SLAM Online: Andrew Bynum is going gray. It’s difficult to notice on television, but the phenomenon strikes me immediately as his 7-foot, 300-pound frame dwarfs the group of reporters surrounding him. He’s 23. I check his scalp again from a few different angles to make sure. Yep, still there—dude has about 25 white hairs generously spread across the top of his dome—a result of the weighing promise, potential and expectation perhaps? He speaks softly and with humility, deflecting praise and a reporter’s comparison to Bill Russell. “I don’t have time to listen to what other people are saying,” Bynum says. “All I can do is get rebounds.” He says this following one of his best all-around games as a Laker—a dominant 10-point, 18-rebound performance against the League’s best center Dwight Howard, including 4 blocked shots and the altering of several others en route to a convincing L.A. win. His body language is different, confidence high as he discusses being able to fully identify with his role as the team’s defensive force and dominant rebounder.

From GeauxHornets, At The Hive: Before the season began, how many of you thought that Aaron Gray’s status for a playoff game would be a noteworthy ESPN headline that you wouldn’t have to go sifting through their website to find? Sure enough, it currently sits in plain sight on ESPN’s NBA homepage, which in itself is a huge testament to the game that Gray played on Sunday afternoon against the Lakers. Though his season high of 12 points certainly played a major part in calling his game a success, it was the little things that helped the Hornets to a game one victory in Los Angeles. If the Big Gray Monster (BGM) is able to do make a similar impact on future games while staying out of foul trouble, the Hornets will be able to counter the Lakers’ size much more effectively than anyone could have predicted, and will therefore make this series a much more winnable one for New Orleans.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The news was delivered to Lakers forward Ron Artest faster than a speedy scorer. His apparent indifference appeared as show as when Artest flexes his muscles. And his defiance sounded as defensive as …well, his defense. We’re of course talking about Artest receiving very little recognition for being remotely considered for the NBA’ defensive player of the year. Instead that award went to Orlando center Dwight Howard for the third consecutive season, an outcome so lopsided with 114 of the 120 sports writers voting him for first place. Scan the sheet and Artest’s name is found 17 spots below other players, including Kobe Bryant, who’s really sagged off his man and played the center-field position this season more than actually playing defense, but that’s a conversation for another day. Artest has had a few lockdown performances on Portland’s Brandon Roy, the Clippers’ Eric Gordon, Golden State’s Monta Ellis and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with the sample size boasting more impressive than his frequent lapse in focus.


EDIT: Just came across this Kobe for MVP post at Ed The Sports Fan.

If there’s one thing I love about the playoffs, it’s the adjustments. I’d prefer to talk about what the Lakers’ opponent needs to do to rectify a loss, but after the first game that’s not the case. Instead, we need to look long and hard at what the Lakers need to do to bounce back and claim a win to even up the series on Wednesday. Luckily (or unluckily, I suppose) the Lakers’ game one performance gave plenty of things to work on heading into game two.

And while there are plenty of things to fix on defense (more on that tomorrow), today we focus on how the Lakers can be more effective on offense. And that means getting Pau Gasol going.

In his post game presser, Phil Jackson said a variety of things about the Lakers’ performance, but what stood out to me was his statement about not being able to recall Pau getting a lot of touches in the post (his overall lack of touches is something else to look at, and we will a bit later). Phil briefly explained that Gasol is one of their primary guys and that getting him the ball in places where he can be most effective is a priority.

So simple, yet so true. And yet the Lakers, as a team, did a poor job of getting Gasol the ball in areas where he could take advantage of his match up with Carl Landry. Before game one, I mentioned that I’d like to see Gasol get a lot of his touches in the strong side post, working in the hub of the Triangle. Yesterday, however, we saw very little of that. Instead we witnessed Gasol primarily operating at the elbow or on the strong side wing, essentially making him a distributor in the Lakers’ hand off sequences and sideline initiations. Needless to say, this isn’t where Gasol – the Lakers’ 2nd best offensive player and primary post up threat – should be spending the majority of his time.

Granted, Gasol is a gifted offensive player who can flourish in these spots. His mid-range game is a strong part of his arsenal and he successfully did damage against the Hornets from the mid post and elbow in the regular season. But in the playoffs, he’ll need to get back to the block to be more effective as well as vary his offense attack. Below are two simple adjusmtents I think will help Gasol get going:

*The first adjustment is for the Lakers to run more “center opposite” actions for Pau. As detailed in this fine post, this action is designed to get a big man coming across the lane to make the catch. This benefits Gasol greatly as he’s not a traditional banger on the low block while also utilizing his quickness and ability to catch the ball on the move. By setting Pau up on the weak side and screening for him to come to the strong side, the Lakers can (hopefully) shake Pau free from his defender and allow him to settle into the low post more easily. An added benefit to this action is that it also allows the Lakers to set up their strong side Triangle initiation with Pau in the hub. The Lakers can then utilize all of their cut and screen actions on both the strong and weak side to take advantage of Pau’s ability to pick out teammates when they break open. With Pau in better position to score on his own or force the type of help that he can take advantage of by making passes to open teammates, there are no downfalls here; only upside.

*Another way to get Pau going is for the Lakers to run more 4/5 P&R actions between Gasol and Odom. Too often in game one, when the Lakers went to the P&R, they relied on the high P&R with Kobe as the ball handler and either Gasol or Bynum setting the screen. This action had mixed results (as it has all season) as Kobe often found himself bottled up coming off the pick with no one to pass to. What we didn’t see as much of was the weak side action of Gasol and Odom working hand off and P&R sequences where Odom could either attack the basket coming off a Gasol screen or pull the ball back and make an easy entry to Gasol. Often times this action causes a switch on D and puts the PF that was guarding Odom onto Gasol in a position where Pau has already established good post position. Plus, with this action occurring on the weak side, Gasol has more space to work with where he can either turn and face or go to a standard back down move to work his jump hook


Outside of these two specific sets designed to get Gasol into the flow of the game, the Lakers need to generally look to the post more (whether for Gasol, Bynum, or Odom) to get their offense operating at peak effiency. During the regular season, Gasol took a combined 19 FG/FTA’s against the Hornets, Odom took a combined 13, and Bynum took a combined 13. Yesterday those numbers were 13, 14, and 10 respectively. In game one, the Lakers were too quick in reversing the ball back to the top of the key rather than holding the ball for an extra tick and letting the post man work his way open to make a catch. I understand the want to keep the ball moving (it is one of the first principles of the offense) but the Laker bigs do need their touches for the offense to flow smoothly – not to mention stay balanced – and yesterday provided another example of the wing players moving away from them too early. I expect film study to make this obvious if it wasn’t already clear after the game. (As an aside, if Steve Blake is able to play on Wednesday I think his general focus on running the offense with an emphasis on making post entries will help the team in addition to all the other ways he was missed.)

In the end, getting the offense settled will be key not only for game two but for the rest of the series. Besides a better emphasis on post play (and better production from the post players) the Lakers also need to work on their spacing, their off ball screens to free up cutters, and in their general crispness of getting into their sets. Besides Kobe’s ability to make shots and Ron’s well rounded offensive game, there wasn’t much positive from the Lakers’ performance on that side of the ball Sunday. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll see them get back to basics by featuring their big men and working more as a team to get each other going.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Heading into the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, nobody gave the New Orleans Hornets even a puncher’s chance in a series against the Lakers. Apparently, the Hornets didn’t get the memo. In Game 1 Sunday at Staples, Monty Williams and crew did a number on the two-time defending champs, playing stiff defense for most of the game while slicing and dicing the Los Angeles Lakers with an endless series of pick and rolls. In the end, they earned themselves a fairly stunning upset. I thought the Hornets would win a game in the series, but not Game 1. “It is dangerous,” Kobe Bryant said of losing the opener. “Absolutely. A series can be over quick.” Particularly given how the Lakers performed down the stretch. Here’s how it broke down. …

From Ryan Schwan, At The Hive: The Hornets just shattered a whole host of sweep predictions, winning 109-100 on the defending champion Lakers home court.   The Hornets led for almost every minute of the game, played record-tying mistake free offensive basketball, and weathered a storm of free throws in the Lakers favor to start the game. As always, it was a tremendous team defensive effort that made the win possible as the Hornets combined to limit Bynum with foul trouble and Gasol in general.  That, in turn, made Bryant take most of the shots through the second half, and history has shown that the Lakers are vulnerable when Bryant is being forced to carry most of the load himself. Then, of course, there was the Eater of Souls.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: I just noticed what a beautiful day it is outside. Here in Hollywood it’s about 80 degrees. The sun is bathing the city in a smooth, calming light. People are on the sidewalks, skateboarding and enjoying afternoon strolls. The city has not crumbled into a lawless hellscape in which looters run amok and stray dogs feast on the dead. The social contract is holding together and the city’s continuing to function somehow, despite a monstrously bad performance by our Los Angeles Lakers. I can only assume that the people I’m seeing on the streets either aren’t Lakers fans or don’t know how this afternoon’s game turned out. For today, at least, they’re the lucky ones.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: This is not a changing of the guard in the West. Not yet. The day is coming when Oklahoma City and maybe New Orleans or Memphis are going to be whooping the Lakers and Spurs in the playoffs and it will not be an upset. There will be a passing torch (or more likely, the ripping of the torch out of Kobe Bryant’s hands, he’s not giving it up willingly). But don’t read that into the Lakers and Spurs dropping their games Sunday. The Lakers and Spurs had bad days (for different reasons) and while they may both have a tougher series than expected one game is not a huge signal. What we really saw is that in the West, the bottom half teams are still very good, and fully capable of beating the elites when the elites are not at their peak. But we’re a ways from saying the Spurs and Lakers are not the teams to beat.

From Rohan, At The Hive: That game was as special as they come. In the upcoming days, we’ll talk about the rest of this series, what the Lakers still have in store for the Hornets, and where we go from here. Right now though, it’s tough to do anything but simply enjoy this victory. We saw vintage Chris Paul, the Jarrett Jack we thought we traded for (and, honestly, a lot more), an absolutely invaluable career night from Aaron Gray, and outstanding coaching from Monty Williams. This is a win I’m going to remember for a long, long time. Where to start? Well, let’s begin with Aaron Gray. It’s rather interesting that on a night where he made a very limited impact on both the offensive and defensive glass, he still contributed in so many ways. With Emeka Okafor in foul trouble all night, Gray hit all five of his shots en route to 11 points.

From Daniel Buerge, Lakers Nation: By now you’ve probably seen or heard that Pau Gasol didn’t have a very good game yesterday. The Laker forward was just 2-9 from the floor and scored just eight points. His contributions elsewhere were minimal as well: six assists and six rebounds. For someone that is supposed to be the second best player on a team favored to win their third straight championship that isn’t going to get the job done. And the Lakers leader isn’t happy about it. When asked during post-game interviews how he felt about Gasol and the effort he put forth Bryant was candid. “If the effort isn’t there,” stated Bryant, “I’m not going to sit around and wait, especially in the playoffs.” In other words – step it up, Pau. While a loss should never be blamed fully on one player, and yesterday is no exception, there is no doubt that the majority of the blame has to fall on Gasol’s broad, Spanish shoulders.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Credit Chris Paul, who was a maestro all game but particularly brilliant with his grand finale. Kudos to New Orleans’ no-name bench, which enjoyed three guys outplaying likely NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom. But criticize the Lakers, too, for letting the Hornets own the playoff opener Sunday at Staples Center, 109-100. “We were the ones responsible for that to happen,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “We have to own up to that.” Gasol acknowledged his subpar outing of eight points on 2-of-9 shooting against clever mixed coverages by New Orleans. He was singled out after the game by All-Star teammate Kobe Bryant for not bringing enough.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Long after the Lakers finished fumbling their playoff opener, Pau Gasol stayed on a table in the trainer’s room, flat on his back, eyes closed. There was plenty to ponder. He picked a bad time to be more white swan than black swan, to steal Kobe Bryant’s comparison earlier this season. Gasol was outscored by Aaron Gray, outhustled by Carl Landry and reminded to take better care of his on-court business after the Lakers’ stunning 109-100 loss Sunday to New Orleans. “It’s one and two, it’s me and him,” Bryant said. “We get all the praise when things go our way and you get all the blame when things don’t. It’s part of the seats we sit in.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Walking toward the exit of the Lakers’ locker room, a team official paced nervously. “Where … is Pau Gasol?” the official said to himself. The locker room just opened to the media at 11 a.m. Sunday, 90 minutes before the Lakers’ Game 1 matchup with New Orleans and Gasol remained nowhere in sight. That prompted some concerns since this coincided with the team’s rule that players arrive at least 90 minutes for tipoff. Moments later, Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest slipped into the locker room and quickly dressed, hoping to avoid getting caught by assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who’s in charge of monitoring such things. Meanwhile, Lakers forward Luke Walton sat by his locker, laughed at his teammates’ tactics in avoiding detection and remarked the team has set up a standings race on who collected the most “silly fines,” infractions such as arriving late to a game or a cell phone going off that ultimately costs a player at least $50 and goes into a pot for team dinners.

Coming into this afternoon’s game, no one was really willing to give the New Orleans Hornets a puncher’s chance in upsetting the Lakers in this first round playoff series. The Lakers swept the Hornets in their season series, with the Hornets’s biggest lead in any of the games was a mere four points. But as the Lakers have proven for the last two seasons, the post season can bring out the best in teams, and more specifically, individual players. New Orleans’ Chris Paul proved that the Lakers are going to have to beat this Hornets team, with a 33 point and 14 assist outing, the Paul-led Hornets will not be giving any games away in this series.

Paul got things going early for the Hornets, finishing the first quarter with eight assists. As expected, the Hornets ran a lot of pick and roll sets in this game, and the Lakers defended them poorly. As we’ve seen during the regular season meetings, the Lakers attempted to defend the Hornets P&R sets by going over screens and forcing Paul to make jump shots over the Lakers bigs, or forcing him to get the ball out of his hands. Today, Paul made a simple adjustment and kept the Lakers on their heels the whole night: he refused to pick up his dribble until he had a play he was comfortable making. With Paul holding on to his dribble, he often extended himself away from the screener, forcing the Lakers to switch on multiple occasions. Over and over again, we saw Chris Paul in one-on-one situations with Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum, putting the Lakers in compromising situations, with the compromise usually coming at the expense of the scoreboard. If Paul wasn’t scoring, he was drawing fouls on whoever was around to reach.

The fourth quarter was a very telling indication that, as well as Paul played, the Hornets’ win was definitely a team effort. With Paul sitting to start the fourth and the Lakers only down one after a fantastic third quarter, it was easy to expect the Lakers to make a run; but Jarret Jack stepped in and immediately started making plays. He came off of a P&R with Aaron Gray and drew a shooting foul on Shannon Brown (knocked down both FTs). A few possessions later, the Hornets ran another high P&R for Jack. Lamar hedged on the screen 35-feet away from the basket and Jack was able to easily split the defenders and hit a little floater in the lane. On the very next possession (you guessed it), the Hornets ran another P&R, this time on the right wing with screeners on both sides (Gray and Bellineli). Jack went right, Matt Barnes switched onto him and gave up the baseline. Lamar Odom slid over to protect the rim on the right block, but it left the lane wide open for a cutting Willie Green (Shannon Brown was completely turned away from him). Green hit a floater over Bynum and Barnes and drew the foul.

What doesn’t seem like much — the Hornets lead being extended from one to five — ended up proving to be huge as Chris Paul was able to come in and close out the game for the Hornets. And close he did. With the P&R working so well for the Hornets, they went right back to their bread and butter with Paul in the game. He drew a foul on Fish by slowing down after taking an Aaron Gray screen and letting Fish pretty much ride him from behind until he heard a whistle and threw up a shot. Took an Okafor screen on another play and fed a Carl Landry sitting behind the Lakers’ defense with a beautiful pass which drew another foul and more free throws.

Then, on back to back plays, Chris Paul was able to create one-on-one situations with Pau Gasol. On the first, he took Gasol to the top of the key, gave him a few moves to get him off balanced and hit a jumper. On the second, he just came off of the screen, took an extra dribble to gather himself, and took a jumper falling down over Gasol’s outstretched arms. Money. From that point, Chris Paul would only go on to score 11 more points and record one more assist. Suffice to say, it was nothing short of a brilliant performance.

On the other side, Kobe had one of his most efficient games in recent weeks, but his 34 points on 13 for 26 shooting performance wasn’t enough. Pau struggled for most of the night. He only recorded eight points and six rebounds on two for nine shooting. More troubling was his lackluster performance on the defensive end of the floor. More than once, he was beat off of the dribble and failed to make timely rotations to keep Chris Paul and co. from getting easy baskets near the rim. Looking at the Hornets’ shot chart shows that the Lakers in general had trouble keeping the Hornets out of the paint, but during that 17-1 run after the all-star break, those were shots that were either contested or not taken at all.

Looking forward, this is a game that saw a remarkable individual performance from one of the league’s elite point guards, and even with the way Paul performed, the Lakers weren’t totally out of the game until the final two minutes of regulation. Also, the Hornets will be holding their collective breaths as they await the status of backup center Aaron Gray, who played admirably in place of Emeka Okafor, who spent a large chunk of the game in foul trouble. The Lakers are going to need a whole lot more from Pau in future games if they’re going to win some games against this Hornets team and they’re going to need to do a better job on Chris Paul. It’s nearly impossible to completely stop such a great point guard, but there are a few things that the Lakers need to tinker on the defensive end of the floor to limit his effectiveness (which we’ll be getting deeper into as we get closer to Game 2). The Lakers are still 16 wins away from a 3-peat, hopefully this afternoon served as a wakeup call for a team that hasn’t played well at all in the past two weeks.

The wait is over and the Lakers’ defense of their championship starts today with the visiting Hornets. We’ve covered the X’s and O’s of this match up and know what the Lakers need to do on both sides of the ball to beat this team. Yes our guys are favored, but the games aren’t played on paper; the team will need effort and execution on both ends to get the victories they need.

With that said, we briefly step away from tactics and strategy to remind of the bigger picture.

The path to a potential championship begins today. There will be ups and downs, dramatic moments, and times where doubt will not only be natural it will be all consuming. However, through it all, I ask again that you try to enjoy the journey. The Lakers are looking to accomplish something truly historic as a team, in their coach’s last stand, with legacies ready to take a major boost should they succeed. Just think, the prospect of a 4th straight Finals appearance, a 3rd straight title, banner #17 for the franchise, ring #12 for the coach and #6 for Kobe and Fisher.

These are massive milestones that this team is chasing and we, as fans, are right there in the thick of it. I understand that when the team commits a careless turnover or misses that offensive rebound it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees.

However, through those hard moments this is a team that we should try to enjoy and appreciate. These chances are few and far between, cherishing them makes the end result that much sweeter should we get there.

And with that, enjoy this game and enjoy this run. We’re lucky fans. The journey starts now.

Before the game started, I just wanted to get these few links to you…

… Rey Moralde over at The No Look Pass gathered Andy Kamenetzky (of Land O’ Lakers), Chris Manning (who does the LD2K highlights on youtube), and Jason Riley of The Lakers Nation. Rey asks a few questions about the Lakers opening round series with the Hornets and gets some fantastic analysis back in return from these guys…

… Arash Markazi has a touching feature over at ESPNLA on why Matt Barnes gets a mohawk one day before the post season begins every year

… Saurav A. Das over at Silver Screen and Roll had a fantastic position-by-position preview of the upcoming Lakers/Hornets series — including the reality of cross matches. It’s very well done and you should all give it a glance for some last-second tidbits to ponder before the game starts…

… Finally, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Synergy, or for those of you who have read about it from either me or Darius but haven’t been able to check it out, Synergy and have teamed up to give the fans a little taste of what the fantastic scouting website does. Here, you can check a Synergy Lakers/Hornets series preview, one that will be updated with stats and video from each game as the series progresses. As of right now, you can click on box scores from both the Lakers and Hornets previous 10 games, look at some of the statistics they offer and watch limited video of individual plays, watch all of specific player’s assists or field goal attempts or whatever statistic you’re interested in from that particular game. It also includes visual graphs of team’s go-to plays, defensive impact and a “star tracker.” For those with a synergy account, you can simply log on here instead of going to the synergy website if you wanted the focused playoff matchup stats. This is done for all of the eight first-round playoff match ups.