Preview and Chat: The New Orleans Hornets

Darius Soriano —  March 31, 2012

Records: Lakers 31-20 (3rd in the West), Hornets 13-38 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (14th in the NBA), Hornets 100.4 (27th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.5 (11th in the NBA), Hornets 105.5 (18th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Marco Belinelli, Al-Farouq Aminu, Carl Landry, Jason Smith
Injuries: Lakers: Jordan Hill (questionable); Hornets: Eric Gordon (out), Emeka Okafor (out), Trevor Ariza (doubtful), Jarrett Jack (questionable), Chris Kaman (questionable), Gustavo Ayon (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: With only 15 games left in the season, now is the time for this team to start to sort out some of its issues and find its stride. However, this is easier said than done. The Lakers’ bench is struggling and Mike Brown is still seeking out lineups that work. Ramon Sessions has looked less comfortable in the last two games, scoring a total of 14 points while only taking 10 shots over his 60 minutes of game action. Kobe’s also struggling with his jumper and the Lakers have reverted back to looking to isolate him more on the wing, mid post, and the top of the key. Add in the up and down play of the Lakers SF’s, the big men being a bit more inconsistent in the past week, and the defense not looking as in sync and the Lakers look worse than usual.

There are no easy answers right now. The team is trying to integrate a key player on the fly and his style of play is one that none of the core players are used to having to mesh with. Mike Brown’s rotations are still erratic and while he’s trying to zero in on who should be playing come playoff time, the players he wants in the game aren’t necessarily performing well enough when they’re called upon.

What can happen, though, is the team playing harder and getting back to basics on both sides of the ball. The defense has been slipping and that’s effort and focus related. The same can be said about the rebounding. The offense, despite aesthetics, has actually taken a big step forward with Sessions on board so while we’d like things to look better, it’s more a matter of refining and finding a way to mesh better than an actual overhaul. If Brown can settle on a rotation and get his key players a bit more rest this team can get back on track. That’s certainly a realistic goal, whether it happens or not remains to be seen.

The Hornets Coming in: Right now, the Hornets are a M.A.S.H. unit. Their best two players (Gordon and Okafor) have been and remain injured while their next two best players (Jack and Ariza) are nicked up. Add in Kaman’s flu and Ayon being away from the team for the birth of a child and this team was missing 6 key rotation players in their last game. But, even though missing these guys has made it difficult to win games, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this franchise. The more losses this team accumulates the more ping pong balls they get in the upcoming draft lottery. As the old NBA saying goes, you have to get worse to get better and this year the Hornets definitely fit this mold. Give credit to their head coach Monty Williams, though. He’s not letting injuries or missing players affect his team’s preparation or effort level. He’s got them playing hard and as competitively as possible. With a better, healthier roster who knows how good this team could be under his guidance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d be in the mix for a bottom seed in the playoffs.

Hornets Blogs: Hornets 24/7 is a great site, check them out. Also give a visit to At The Hive for more Hornets coverage.

Keys to game: How competitive this game is will be dependent on who’s available to play for the Hornets. If Ariza, Kaman, Ayon, and Jack are able to suit up this team is sneakily good enough to hang with a lot of rosters. If they’re not, they become one of the worst – if not the worst – rosters in the league.

Either way, though, the Lakers need to attack this team with ball movement and quick decisions. As they showed in the 1st quarter of the OKC game, when the Lakers move the ball inside-out and from side to side they can cripple a defense because their talent level in the post and on the wing is too good for most teams. Today, they need to recapture that mode of attack to make a hustling Hornets’ defense scramble all over the court.

To accomplish this, the ball must move. When Bynum catches the ball in the post he must make quicker shot/pass decisions. Drew has been excellent at scoring the ball and overpowering his man but he’s also been too willing to hold the ball in order to get his shot and that’s meant less ball movement and more standing. In essence, he’s looked a like a post up version of the Kobe that draws ire as a ball stopper.

Speaking of Kobe, he must find his shot soon or become more of a facilitator. To help him get easier baskets the Lakers must look for him on curls and weak side duck-in’s so he can get shots going to the rim where he’s not actively having to work off the dribble to create for himself. To aid in this, Kobe must do his work off the ball with smart movement – he must set up his screens and time his cuts a bit better. In watching him work off the ball in recent games that pep in his step hasn’t been there and it’s allowed his defender to body him off picks and make his catches harder, pushing him farther from the basket to do his work.

Defensively, all I’m looking for is more effort. Mike Brown’s defensive system isn’t that complex. He runs a hedge/recover scheme in the P&R and the back end rotations are straight forward. However, he asks his players to cover a lot of ground and that means they must be active and hustling at all times. Lately, this hasn’t been the case. Players are doing a lot of pointing and asking another man to rotate for them. Shots aren’t being contested with the same vigor they were earlier in the season. With the defense scrambling more but not hustling as much, the rebounding has suffered. If the Lakers simply go harder for longer, these issues can be rectified. I understand the minutes have piled up. I also understand that disjointed offense can lead to players not going after it on defense all the time. But, the guys need to push through those things and get back to playing defense.

Bad habits have been setting in lately and today’s game offers a good chance to move away from them and get back on track. The Lakers are talented enough to make a run in the post-season but not talented enough that they can’t try give effort and still win. Settling for the easy play won’t get it done for this team and doing so will only lead to disappointment long term. Today, they have the chance to break out of the malaise that’s hurt them this past week. Here’s hoping they do.

Where you can watch: 12:30PM start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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