I’m not going to lie, this game concerns me some. The Lakers are undoubtedly playing very good basketball since returning from the All-Star break, looking refreshed mentally and physically. Their offense is humming and their commitment to defense is strong (despite the shootout with the Wolves on Tuesday). The Hornets, however, are also playing well, coming out of the break winning 3 of 4 and firmly in the mix to return to the playoffs playing a joyful and fun brand of hoops.
If asking me to pinpoint where my concerns lie, though, it would be with the Hornets shooting ability. They’re 6th in the NBA in 3-point percentage and of their 7 players who take more than three attempts from deep a game, 4 of them shoot 40% or better and only one is under 37%. They recently had a game where they hit 16 threes in a single half — which is more than the Lakers hit most nights. Any matchup where the Lakers could be trading made twos with opponent’s made threes concerns me and tonight is one of those nights.
Further, the Hornets play a free and loose style that is full of ball and player movement in the halfcourt, but thrives in transition as well. The Lakers are equipped to deal with that type of attack for sure — they’re not the league’s best defense for nothing — but staying sharp and locked in is of greater importance when a team can get as hot from deep as this one can. So, while the Lakers should be favored to win, I have enough data on this team to know that this is the type of game that could end up getting away from them if they don’t have a baseline level of energy and focus.
That said, the Hornets will surely face issues of their own. While they have some defensive bodies to throw at LeBron, none are the exact type of athletic, strong, quick wing that have the most success vs. him. Whether it’s Hayward, Bridges, or PJ Washington, a Bron who is focused on scoring and being aggressive can shred them all. With that, I hope to see a bit more of the Bron we saw in the 2nd half vs. the Wolves in order to set the right tone.
Further, this is also a game where Dennis can have a big night. Terry Rozier is a fine defensive guard and he has the athleticism and strength to cause some issues, but if the Lakers commit to running more P&R’s (be it with Bron as the screener or with Trez), they can get Dennis open and allow him to play in space. Further, if the Lakers can force switches that end with either Zeller or Biymobo on an island vs. Dennis, he can cook by getting downhill and scoring at the rim (or creating shots for others).
If there’s two team wide questions that need to fall in the Lakers favor tonight, look directly at turnovers and rebounding. The Hornets force 15.7 turnovers a game — 3rd best in the league. The Lakers, meanwhile, remain the bottom 5 of the league in giving the ball away. Considering how good the Hornets are in transition, the Lakers must be better at taking care of the ball tonight.
On the rebounding front, the Lakers are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league and the Hornets are one of the best on the offensive glass. And it’s not just a single player who boosts these numbers, either. The Hornets have 5 players who average over 1 OReb a game, meaning it’s the entire Lakers roster who should be aware that almost every player on the court is a threat to get on the backboards and should be treated that way. You cannot leak out early against this team and you must close down the FT line in order to gang rebound. Once the ball is secured, then you can chase transition chances.
I know the Lakers are playing well. And it would not surprise me if it kept going tonight. The Hornets are on the 2nd night of a back to back and got blasted on Wednesday in Denver. That said, the Lakers always get the opponent’s best shot and with LaMelo making his first visit back home to play the Lakers, I expect there to be good energy from him and his mates. The Lakers will need to exceed that and come out with their antennas raised and ready to compete.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.