I am going to keep this short and sweet because, frankly, that is all I have in me today.
The Lakers are back in action after not playing since Tuesday and hopefully the time off did them some good. While there’s an argument to be made that what the team really needed was to get back on the floor and try to get their first win as quickly as possible — Kobe, in fact, made this argument — I’m on record as saying the time off would be of more benefit. This team has been putting together longer stretches of functional basketball, but they are still a ways from refining their collective games. Hopefully the time off afforded them the practice time and film sessions to get them closer to being able to get that first win.
To put it as bluntly as possible, this game offers their best chance for at least a couple of weeks. The Hornets are clearly the better team and have a .500 record to show for their efforts, but the Lakers are at home, rested, and as motivated as they can be to get this win. They will need a strong effort on both sides of the ball, but with the Hornets playing on Friday and traveling cross-country yesterday, they are about as ripe as they can be to take an L.
This doesn’t mean the Lakers can take anything for granted or think they just need to show up. The Hornets possess a top 5 defense and post oriented offense that could give the Lakers issues. Especially troubling is how they have three capable defenders — Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Gerald Henderson — to defend Kobe well, which could prove daunting to the Lakers’ offensive attack should they need an extra boost from #24 in this game. If Kobe has a hard time getting buckets, it will take strong efforts from Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Boozer, and the rest of the role players to be big enough threats to open up the floor for Kobe later on.
Defensively the Lakers need to corral the Hornets’ trio of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and Stephenson. The Hornets love to go to Al on the block and he will look to isolate against Hill/Boozer/Davis/Sacre to try and get buckets. Al is as crafty a post player as you’ll find in the league and his array of pivots and ball fakes can drive his defender batty. Hill and Davis, especially, will need to defend well, but do so without fouling as the last thing the Lakers will want is to give the Hornets free points at the line when they’ve shown that their offense will struggle at times.
As for Kemba and Lance, the Lakers must really take a team approach to slowing these guys down. Kemba can be excellent in isolation if he starts to get hot, but is even more dangerous when he can get space off the screen and use the threat of his jumper to get the defense off balance. The Lakers must manage him at the point the point of attack and turn him into a passer first, not allowing him to find his rhythm as a scorer.
As for Lance, he has an all-around game, but has not been the scoring threat you’d think to start the year. However, against the Lakers’ struggling wing defense, he will likely look to be more aggressive in looking for his own tonight and the team must respond accordingly. Like Walker, Stephenson can find his groove quickly and can hurt defenses out to beyond the arc. If he starts to hit his jumper, it will open up his penetration where he can do damage as a scorer and a passer when the defense collapses. Best to not let him find his stride at all.
Again, this is the Lakers’ best chance to get a win until the Thanksgiving Holiday. A couple of the players have said, in no uncertain terms, that they expect to win this game. But that’s just talk. Their games better be ready to back up those words or what is already an ugly start to the season may get much worse in the coming weeks.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.