Records: Lakers 40-37 (9th in the West), Hornets 27-50 (13th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (8th in the NBA), Hornets 102.8 (15th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (T 17th in the NBA), Hornets 107.3 (28th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Metta World Peace (questionable), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Hornets: Austin Rivers (out), Jason Smith (out)
Hornets Blogs: Hornets 24/7 is great. As is At The Hive. Not sure what their new names will be next season when the team becomes the Pelicans, but both are worth your time now and will be in the future too.
Talking Points: Tonight is a pretty big night for the Lakers. They trail the Jazz by .5 games for the 8th seed, but are even in the loss column. The Lakers face a Hornets group that has given them issues all season while Jazz host the Thunder in what is a pretty difficult game even though it’s in Salt Lake City. If the Lakers win and the Jazz lose, the 8th seed is back in the Lakers’ hands and their destiny is once again their own to control. If the Lakers lose and the Jazz win, the prospects of making the playoffs pretty much go down to zero.
Even if that’s a slight exaggeration, the facts are these: After tonight the Jazz will have 3 games, 2 of which are against the playing better but still vulnerable Timberwolves (one road, one home) and the Grizzlies (on the road). The Lakers, meanwhile will have 4 more games including a visit to Portland tomorrow and games against the always problematic Spurs, the Warriors, and the Rockets. Basically, the Lakers can’t expect any help and should set their goals at winning out. Even though the Jazz control their own destiny and could also clinch by winning out, losing one game — with tonight being one of the best chances — looks more than possible. Anything beyond that is a toss up (though that Memphis game has potential). So, while we’ll all be watching the Lakers’ game, keep one eye on the happenings in Utah tonight, folks. It really does matter.
As for winning this game against the Hornets there are a few keys:
- Slow down Greivis Vasquez.
- Stick to shooters around the arc.
- Pound the ball inside offensively.
- Get solid production from the few bench players who do see action.
- Take care of the ball/avoid turnovers.
Vasquez is the key to the Hornets attack and has hurt the Lakers in every game this season. He’s a crafty pick and roll practitioner and finds cracks in the defense when attacking in isolation. He flashes an improved jumper, but his main goal is to get into the paint and either finish for himself or draw enough attention to hit a teammate for an open shot. Slowing him means keeping him out of the paint — which is easier said than done. He has a big body and knows how to use it, but Blake will need to play him aggressively and shade him to spots on the floor along the wing while always keeping him walled off via smart use of angles. There will be times where Blake gets beat, but if he can win this game within the game the Lakers will be much better off.
If Blake (along with Dwight and Pau behind him) can keep Vasquez from doing a lot of damage at the rim, the Lakers wings must do their jobs of sticking to shooters behind the arc and not get roped into no man’s land too close to the paint where they’re not helping, but not covering their own man. This is especially key against Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, but also against Roger Mason, Brian Roberts, and Xavier Henry. All three are capable of knocking down the outside shot and must be respected out there. Roberts, Henry, and Gordon have more diverse games and will put the ball on the floor so controlled closeouts are in order. Mason and Anderson must be run off the line at all costs and forced to create a shot off the dribble with the rest of the team reacting to them once the ball is put on the floor.
Offensively, the ball must go through the post. It doesn’t much matter if that’s through Dwight, Pau, or Kobe, but the ball must be worked 15 feet and in with quality shots obtained through discipline, but aggressive, ball movement. Both Dwight and Pau have the games to work-over their respective defenders and must be assertive in establishing position and then looking to make strong moves around the rim. Anthony Davis is the team’s only real shot blocker and while he must be respected inside, he lacks the ballast to keep Dwight (and even Pau) away from the rim if they get low and use their legs to drive for their position. The Lakers’ wings must recognize this and make the post entry on time when the bigs break open. Holding the ball even a beat too long may sacrifice the position established.
Kobe will likely see a combination of Gordon and Aminu (and maybe even Henry) on defense and while all can be good defenders, he must also work to exploit them by trying to get good shots from the FT line and below. Kobe’s been playing a ton of minutes lately and when he gets fatigued one of the areas that’s most affected is his shot selection. He starts to settle for long jumpers, especially form behind the arc, and those are the types of bail out shots the defense wants him taking. If he’s patient in his work off the ball and aggressive when handling it (either in the P&R or in isolation) he can get good looks or earn trips to the FT line. Both, as well as his playmaking, will be needed against an opponent that has typically been able to match the Lakers in points. So, as usual, Kobe will need to do it all.
As for the other Lakers, it will be nice to get Ron back tonight, even in a limited role (he’s expected to play around 20 minutes, though that’s just an estimate). If he can hit a few jumpers and play tough defense, he’ll be a net positive. Just his presence alone should inspire his mates. Where the Lakers need actual production is from Clark, Jamison, and Meeks. Clark has been great lately and more of that will be needed. His activity on both sides of the floor have provided a needed boost. Jamison has also been a solid contributor and his offense — both inside and out — will be helpful. Meeks, however, needs to find his game and quickly. His jumper has not been falling lately and while he works hard on defense, if he’s not hitting shots his utility as a player goes down dramatically. He’s been getting wide open looks, but just can’t seem to knock them down. That must change tonight.
Overall, this is a game that the Lakers should win, but it’s also one they must win. There are no more second chances for this team. There are 5 games left and getting them all is as close to a necessity as you can get. The only way to make that happen is to start with this game tonight.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.