Records: Lakers 8-10 (12th in the West), Hornets 5-11 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (5th in the NBA), Hornets 102.1 (12th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.6 (8th in the NBA), Hornets 106.9 (Last in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Roger Mason, Al-Forouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out); Hornets: Eric Gordon (out), Anthony Davis (out)
The Lakers Coming in: We’ve all been hard on the Lakers to this point. An 8-10 record will inspire those tough critiques. After all, watching this team can be exhausting as the only thing late in games that are missed more than free throws are defensive rotations. Even though we’ve seen some good, the bad has outweighed it. You don’t get to the record the Lakers have unless that’s true.
That said, we’d also be best served taking the wide view with this team. When the season started 5 weeks ago we talked patience for team that was only just coming together after a haphazard training camp that saw it’s top 9 players take the floor together for exactly zero minutes. We talked about how this group would need time to gel, find it’s stride in a new offense, and learn how to play together. No one really thought things would click right away, and that was under close to ideal circumstances.
Fast forward to today and we’ve not seen anything close to ideal circumstances. Steve Nash hasn’t played since the first half of the 2nd game of the season. His back up, Steve Blake, hasn’t played since the 7th game and will miss at least 6 weeks more after surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle. Pau Gasol has battled knee tendonitis for most of the season and hasn’t looked himself physically, even saying that there’s multiple plays a game he can’t make and plays he can’t finish due to his limitations. Add all of this to the coaching change after 5 games and we have a season that’s not been stable at all.
Of course the losing is difficult. And seeing the same mistakes play musical chairs in every loss is frustrating. But it’s still almost impossible to fully judge this team until they’re healthy enough to take the floor together and have had the time to acclimate to D’Antoni’s system (and he has time to adjust to this specific batch of players). Until then, we’ll continue to see up and down play, but that only tells the story of the current incarnation of this (incomplete) team. This isn’t to say that Nash or a healthy Pau are cure alls. But basketball is such an interconnected game that changing one or two variables can have a substantial impact on the overall team play. At this point, we simply haven’t seen enough of the “Lakers” to really tell what this team is.
The Hornets Coming in: The Hornets are 2-2 in their last 4 games but before that stretch had lost 7 in a row. They’re currently without their best two players as #1 overall pick Anthony Davis is sidelined with a “stress reaction” in his ankle after suffering multiple sprains in a single week and Eric Gordon sits out with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. Both are out indefinitely and, with them sitting, the Hornets chances of racking up wins are also on the shelf. This doesn’t mean they’re incapable, but they’re surely shorthanded and at some point even playing really hard doesn’t make up for missing some of your best players.
But, as mentioned, this team does play hard for Monty Williams. He plays to the strengths of the players he has available to him and that means lots of pick and rolls with Greivis Vasquez initiating and spot up jumpers for Ryan Anderson. Also playing well is former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu. In his 3rd year, he’s starting to find his stride and a summer of international basketball seemed to really helped his development.
The other news surrounding the Hornets is the report that they will be changing their name to the Pelicans next season. I’ve no hard opinion about this either way — I think there are worse team names in the NBA, though can see why fans wouldn’t be that excited about it — but do find the name interesting. At least there is a history to the name that may resonate with locals and if they are good with it, who cares what I think?
Keys to game: I almost feel like leaving this section blank. The Lakers are so up and down lately that predicting what they will do is a fools errand. Your best bet is to probably think of what you think will happen and then go with opposite.
In any event, if there is factor that will likely be huge tonight it is the pace at which this game is played. The Hornets play at the slowest pace in the league (in comparison to the Lakers 2nd fastest) and average about 8 possessions fewer per game than the Lakers. This, of course, makes sense. A slower game means fewer possessions which translates to a better opportunity for the team with less talent to pull out the win.
Tonight, then, the Lakers mustn’t get bogged down playing at the tempo the Hornets want to establish, instead imposing their will onto them. The Lakers must push the ball and look to establish early offense, especially through Dwight Howard via rim runs against Robin Lopez. If the Lakers can establish Dwight early in possessions, it will go a long way in helping them control the paint which will only open up their perimeter options later in the game.
Besides going inside via Howard, I’d also like to see the Lakers attack the rim off the dribble more than they have been lately. In recent games Kobe (especially Kobe) and Ron have settled for too many jumpers and not looked to really attack the paint, even when match ups dictated they could. Tonight, I’d like to see less long jumpers (especially those early in the clock) and more drives to the rim. This will either lead to good shots or force the Hornets’ bigs to help, opening up offensive rebounding chances and trips to the foul line.
Defensively the Lakers must mostly concern themselves with defending the three point line. The Hornets are 5th in the league in three point field goal percentage and use that weapon to help prop up their offense. In Vasquez, Mason, and Anderson they start three players who will spread the floor and the Lakers must be aware of them at all times as they float around the arc. Furthermore, the Lakers must also understand how the resulting spaced floor will lead to open lanes for ball penetration and cuts off the ball for shots in the paint. If the Lakers don’t balance sticking with shooters and showing the right amount of help, they will give up points to this team.
The Lakers continue to get each team’s best shot each night, but this is a game they need to win. The Hornets will give it their all and the Lakers, coming off a back to back, may be a bit more tired than normal. Still, the Hornets are six games under .500 and that’s not on accident. If the Lakers show a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and bring some defensive intensity, they should leave New Orleans a winner. Here’s to it happening.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.