Records: Lakers 35-22 (3rd in the West), Hornets 15-41 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (11th in the NBA), Hornets 100.6 (29th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (13th in the NBA), Hornets 105.9 (20th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Jason Smith, Chris Kaman
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out); Hornets: Jarrett Jack (out), Chris Johnson (doubtful), Emeka Okafor (out)
The Lakers come into this game losers of two straight, even with the Clippers in the loss column, and banged up with Kobe set to miss his second straight game and Ramon Sessions favoring his sprained left shoulder. Said another way, the outlook isn’t too positive. And while games like the one tonight serve as an opportunity – for Gasol to continue his strong play, for Bynum to get on track, for Ebanks to show he might be worthy of a rotation spot – the Lakers must seize the chances in front of them rather than allow them to linger out of their grasp.
Tonight’s foe, meanwhile, is wrapping up a season that has been in dire straits from the get go. A trade of a franchise player and countless injuries that have shuffled the lineup on a nearly nightly basis has made this year one to forget for the league owned Hornets. And the news just got worse for them today as Jarrett Jack was diagnosed with a stress fracture that will keep him sidelined the remainder of the year. Par for the course, for the Hornets it seems.
The good news for New Orleans is that Eric Gordon should be available to play tonight. And with his inclusion in the lineup, the Hornets have a ballast for their perimeter offense that can make up for Jack being out. As we remember from his days with the Clippers, Gordon is a well rounded offensive threat that can do everything well on offense and be threat from nearly everywhere on the court and in almost every circumstance. He can hit spot up jumpers, can attack the basket, handle in the P&R, create shots off the dribble, and be a playmaker for his teammates. While I expect some rust on his game, he’s a talent that must be taken seriously on O. Back when Gordon was with the Clips, Ron would guard him most of the time with Kobe sliding over to Ariza. I expect this trend to continue tonight, with Ebanks sliding over to guard his doppleganger. Ron will need to body Gordon off the ball and funnel him to his help on the ball to limit him.
The rest of the Hornets offense will be dictated by Vasquez running P&R’s and Kaman operating in the post. Vasquez is limited athletically but offers good size and a ton of craftiness. He’ll change speeds, go opposite the screen if he sees an opening, and use his body to create space so he can get all the way to the rim or hit his teammates for an open look. His ability to do a bit of everything on O means he must be respected so Sessions will need to be alert and active on D. As for Kaman, he’s been playing well in the latter part of the season, showing why a lot of contenders were hopeful he’d be bought out and become a free agent. He’ll look to isolate in the post and is comfortable turning and facing to shoot his jumper or backing his man down into a range where he can shoot his jump hook over either shoulder. Bynum should be able to keep Kaman off the spots where he’s most comfortable, but work will need to be done early in possessions by big Drew. This means changing ends from O to D with purpose and not getting caught up arguing calls or trailing behind the play on D.
Offensively, with Kobe out, the Lakers must work inside out even more frequently. Both Bynum and Pau have distinct advantages over their men, especially in the areas of quickness and length. If both can get up court quickly, both should be able to get into spots on the floor where they can get good shots before the defense is fully set up. This is especially true for Bynum against Kaman. Drew can exploit Kaman by getting to the box early and then using his superior size to establish the post and get easy shots.
As for Pau, is he’s a trailer, it sets him up perfectly to shoot his mid range jumper against a sagging defense and then use the threat of that shot to keep running hard and get all the way to the block as the defense concentrates on Bynum. Pau trailing also sets up great opportunities to run early offense P&R’s where Sessions can get going. Neither Smith nor Kaman have great foot speed and both can be beaten off the dribble by Sessions when he looks to turn the corner. If Pau can get a good angle on his picks, Sessions should be able to get into threatening spots on the floor where he can make shot/pass decisions much more easily.
The last thing I’ll be looking for on offense is how Ron plays against Trevor. These guys often go at each other whenever they’re matched up, as the bad blood from free agency still exists. With Ron playing well lately, I hope he’ll look for his offense on weak side duck ins and power post ups off cuts (like he’s been doing for several games now). His strength advantage is large against most SF’s but especially against Ariza and with Kobe out, his offense will be needed tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:00PM start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.