Record: 31-28 (27-32 Pythagorean), 7th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 5-5 (but have dropped 5 of the last 7)
Offensive Rating: 104.2 (26th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 106.1 (14th in the NBA)
Playoff Implications: While they are all big now, this one is huge, and not just for the city of New Orleans. The Lakers are precariously balanced in the eighth playoff spot, with Sacramento and Utah both 1.5 games back. New Orleans is just one game ahead of the Lakers.
Paul vs. Smush: This is the biggest match up of the night. Soon to be anointed Rookie of the Year Chris Paul is the offensive catalyst for the Hornets, starting with his 18.2 points per 40 minutes (second on the team) with a true shooting percentage of 54.8% (remember, the league average is close to 53%). Whatâ€™s more impressive is he is dishing out 8.9 assists per 40 minutes with just 2.9 turnovers. As a rookie.
You would think he should be hitting the â€œrookie wallâ€ since heâ€™s never had to play this many games in a season before, but in the last 10 games he has been the teamâ€™s best player, by a wide margin.
When the Lakers and Hornets played last month, Paul was 6 of 10 from the field and finished with 19 points and 13 assists. Smush (and Sasha) will need to make sure he is not that efficient tonight if the Lakers are going to win
The rest of the Hornets: Despite Paul, the Hornets are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. David West has been solid at the four and leads the team with 19.5 points per 40 minutes. Speedy Claxton is always dangerous. Last time these two played, Desmond Mason led the Hornets with 21. But these are guys the Lakers can stop if they play focused defense.
This is a game Kobe, Cook and Odom should do well â€” the Hornets are an average defensive team but they have trouble with athletic people at the three and the four. For the season, threes (where Kobe essentially plays) are shooting 51% (eFG%) against the Hornets. He had 35 points last time, but the Lakers got their ass handed to them.
Lakers notes: Devean George is questionable tonight due to a sprained right wrist. Look for Jim Jackson to get a few of his minutes.
That last game where the Lakers lost big to New Orleans, Lamar Odom did not play.
Keyâ€™s to a Laker win: First, withstand the early run. New Orleans should come out fired up for the first game back in the Big Easy (although apparently the players really are fond of Oklahoma City). If New Orleans comes out hot, the Lakers just need to keep it close.
If they play the solid man-defense weâ€™ve seen the last couple of games tonight, they should be able to slow down an unimpressive Hornet attack. The key is out top, and making sure Paul doesnâ€™t get loose then start setting up teammates.
Iâ€™m not a big fan of saying a game is â€œmust winâ€ with 20+ games remaining, but this is about as close as it gets. The Hornets have stumbled in the last few games, coach Byron Scott blames it on the first time is young squad has been under playoff pressure, and a loss here would further erode their confidence. Let them try to hold off Sacramento and letâ€™s get into the seventh spot.