Records: Lakers 30-31 (9th in the West), Hornets 21-40 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (8th in the NBA), Hornets 102.7 (13th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (18th in the NBA), Hornets 106.9 (27th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season), Metta World Peace (he says he’s playing); Hornets: Jason Smith (out for the season)
Keys to game: Coming off a game last night and with key players nicked up (Kobe, Dwight, and Ron are all dealing with various ailments), this game is by no means a walk in the park. The Lakers are only 4-7 on the 2nd night of a back to back this year and have struggled in areas where fresh legs typically come into play — on defense and on the glass. So, even though the Hornets are not a very good team — even at home — it is not like the Lakers can simply lace up their shoes and expect to get a victory.
That’s especially the case with the Hornets having nearly their entire roster available and ready to go. Their starting lineup offers a variety of play makers and good finishers offensively (they are a top 15 offensive team after all) and those players will put stress on the Lakers’ scheme to defend well and for full possessions.
In the last contest, Greivis Vasquez really hurt the Lakers using a well paced individual attack that combined patience, savvy, and good finishing ability. Vasquez found cracks in the defense to get inside 10 feet where he used a variety of floaters and crafty finishes to score points and put the defense on its heels. With no one to really had Steve Nash on, expect Vasquez to be in attack mode again to try and exploit his match up.
Besides his own scoring, though, Vasquez was also great at setting up shots for others. He tallied 15 assists in the last game, with Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Robin Lopez, and several other Hornets all benefitting from his ability to create good looks out of isolation and P&R sets. It’s the latter action the Lakers will really have to worry about in this game as the Hornets offer a variety of options out of this set that can exploit their defense.
Rookie Anthony Davis is showing a polish as the big in the P&R and he must be accounted for as a finisher both on the roll to the hoop and in popping out where he can shoot or pass with good results. Eric Gordon has the ability to torment defenses from long range (he hit 6 three pointers in the last match up with the Lakers) as he camps on the back side. Gordon can also take the initial pass and create off the dribble against a closing out defender in order to create a good shot for himself or a teammate. Aminu is a fine slasher off the ball ala Earl Clark and can do well to find easy baskets as teams overcommit to Davis and Gordon. All in all, the Lakers better be ready to defend this play with sharp rotations and strong communication.
Offensively, it really is difficult to say what should be the Lakers best plan of attack.
Kobe has a hurt shooting arm and while he had some good success against the Thunder, there’s no telling if he can effectively hit shots before we see him operate on the floor. The Nash/Howard P&R has been struggling in the last few games and projecting how they’ll connect before hand is also a fuzzy forecast. The hope would be that Kobe can play close to his typical level and that he can be a featured offensive player against Gordon by working off the dribble in isolation and out of the post.
It’s also hopeful that Nash and Howard can take advantage of Vasquez and Lopez in the P&R by making them both slide their feet in space and recover as the action progresses. If they can then combine for some good looks, they can stretch the defense thin and that can lead to good shots for other players all over the floor. Shots that, hopefully, can be knocked down against a defense that struggles to get the stops they need to win games.
Another key, as usual, will be the play of the bench. Against the Thunder, the Jamison/Meeks/Blake combo was solid but none raised their game in a manner that was needed. Lately, however, at least one has been able to outperform their season numbers in any given game to boost the team’s chances. Against this Hornets team — one that doesn’t have a lot of strong depth themselves — the hope is that one of that trio can break out and give the Lakers that added dimension. Especially coming off a night where the team’s key players saw a lot of minutes.
As noted after the Thunder game, tonight’s contest is one of the ones the Lakers need to win. The post-season is the ultimate goal and the team will not get there by dropping winnable games whether they’re on the road or not. Going back to Los Angeles with a split on this two game roadie is what was expected a few days ago, here’s to making that happen.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.