Posted Apr 22 2011 1:48PM
NEW ORLEANS -- The Hornets, huh?
They may be unlikely candidates as the alarm clock that will wake up the Lakers. But here we are.
It's late April, which must mean the two-time defending NBA champs and three-time defending Western Conference titlists are struggling to get their playoff march on track.
It has become an annual first-round tradition that always seems to play out the same way, with the Rockets in 2009, the Thunder in 2010 and now, apparently, the Hornets in 201. In this 1-1 first-round series that shifts to New Orleans Arena Friday night for two games, it all looks very familiar: The Lakers need a push, the Lakers get a push, the Lakers get dominant all over again.
Of course, it is entirely possible the Lakers are not close to being locked in and the claim of having received the requisite scare is little more than a hopeful suggestion.
"We like to be challenged, even though they won the first game," L.A. center Andrew Bynum said. "We like to have a good first-round opponent, kind of like OKC last year. They started running and they really made us play with a sense of urgency. Losing the first game (to the Hornets), they put it right back on us. When we have that feeling, that sense, everybody goes out and plays a hard game. We're pretty good when we do that."
The difference is, the Lakers had reason to be genuinely concerned about Oklahoma City. They had been blown out at Oklahoma City Arena three weeks earlier, which should have been a pretty good wake-up call in itself. The young Thunder could dictate a tempo that would make the Lakers' legs burn. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gave them two people to sweat on defense.
The current opponent is practically none of those. While the Hornets want to play in transition in hopes of countering a size disadvantage, they don't have the same athleticism as Oklahoma City. Also, New Orleans got swept by the Lakers during the regular season. And they have one serious offensive threat, Chris Paul, not a phenomenal wing scorer and a big guard who explodes to the rim.
It's too soon to know if this is actually the jump start the Lakers need. If it is, that would be in line with history.
In 2009, the Rockets supplied the scare while defying expectations more than the Hornets are now, losing Yao Ming to injury during the series, going smaller than small and still getting to a seventh game in Los Angeles. The Lakers survived and immediately played their best stretch of the playoffs by beating Denver in six games in the conference finals and Orlando in five games in the championship series.
In 2010, the Thunder, postseason newbies, had a good showing in defeat in the opener, won two in a row to tie the first-round series when it moved to Loud City and nearly forced a Game 7 before losing by a point on an offensive rebound. The Lakers would credit Oklahoma City for knocking them into alignment, leading to another parade.
In 2011, a lot of questions still are to be answered.
Someone asked coach Phil Jackson after Game 2 whether the aggressive play was good for his team at this point.
"Who knows," he replied without hesitation.
"What do you know?" someone asked.
"That we won by nine points or something, maybe it was 11," Jackson said of the 87-78 victory. "That's about it. Who knows how we're going to react to the next game. Who knows what the refereeing's going to be like the next game. They may tighten it up. We may have to play an all-together different type of game."
It's too soon to know about that, too.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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