Lakers - Hornets Playoff Preview

This Season’s Matchups
The Lakers and Hornets met four times in 2010-11, L.A. sweeping New Orleans clean. Here’s the nutshell from each of those contests, with links to our detail-filled Lakers.com Gameday pages.

Lakers 102, Hornets 84 - Mar. 27 @ STAPLES Center: L.A.’s stars again led the way to a convincing win over the Hornets, with Bryant’s 30 points and Gasol’s 23-point, 16-board double-double giving L.A. its 15th win in 16 games out of the All-Star break. The Lakers opened a 14-point lead in the first half, and cruised to a win despite Carl Landry’s season-high 24 points in place of injured David West, securing the season sweep over Monty Williams’s squad.

Lakers 101, Hornets 95 - Feb. 5 @ New Orleans: Gasol dropped his season-high of 34 points with 10 boards, while Bryant added 32 points for their third straight victory over the Hornets. Gasol dominated his matchup at the power forward spot, L.A.’s length again proving too much for New Orleans. Chris Paul had his best game to date against L.A., going for 21 points and 15 assists to lead a late charge in a game that hadn’t been close early.

Lakers 101, Hornets 97 - Jan. 7 @ STAPLES Center: Eight days after winning in New Orleans, L.A. held off the Hornets at home behind Kobe Bryant’s 25 points, big double-doubles from Gasol (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Odom (17 points, 13 rebounds), the team’s fifth win in six days.

Lakers 103, Hornets 88 - Dec. 29 @ New Orleans: L.A. celebrated the return of Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup for the first time in the season by sailing easily to an 18-point victory. Lamar Odom posted 24 points in his first game off the bench, Pau Gasol scored 11 points with 12 boards and Bynum went for 18 points as L.A. used its length to keep the Hornets from buzzing.


GERRY VAILLANCOURT PODCAST : Voice of the Hornets Gerry Vaillancourt (you can call him Gerry V) joined us for a complete breakdown of the New Orleans team he’s analyzed for 19 years, detailing Chris Paul’s health and what the Hornets need from him, how N.O. will look to break down L.A.’s defense, the importance of controlling tempo and more.


1st Round Schedule Wallpaper

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For 4.8 seconds, New Orleans was not going to be L.A.’s first-round destination.

On Wednesday night, the Kings had taken a three-point lead with 9.6 seconds left in L.A.’s regular season finale at Sacramento, the Lakers appearing to run out of gas in a game they’d led by as many as 20 points. They’d been outscored 29-8 in the fourth to trail a fired up bunch of Kings in perhaps their final game in the state capitol.

L.A. was heading to Portland as the No. 3 seed in the West … forget about Bourbon Street. Right?

Apparently, Kobe Bryant had other ideas.

With 4.8 seconds left, a jubilant crowd cheering and jeering, Bryant slithered into Black Mamba mode, ignoring his five straight misses in the final minutes and rising to bury a game-tying three-pointer. Then he blocked Sacramento’s final shot with 1.5 seconds left, and scored five points with three assists and four rebounds in an overtime L.A. won 17-9, locking up the No. 2 seed and sending the No. 3 Mavs to Portland.

New Orleans, here come the twice defending champs, after all.

On paper, the Lakers enjoy several advantages against the Hornets, having completed a 4-0 season sweep, won 9-of-11 in the past three campaigns and 4-of-5 contests in the Crescent City.

Even before former All-Star David West went out for the season with a torn ACL, L.A. enjoyed a considerable length advantage inside against 6-10 Emeka Okafor and 6-9 Carl Landry, tasked with handling Laker seven-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

Bynum is L.A.’s biggest question mark, having suffered a bone bruise in his right knee in the second quarter of L.A.’s second-to-last regular season game and thus missing the last. However, he is expected to start in Sunday’s series opener, after having five days to get his knee right. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes – who missed L.A.’s last two games with knee soreness – will be available, meaning that Steve Blake’s bout with the chicken pox makes him the only player unavailable for Game 1.

Leading New Orleans into Los Angeles is, of course, Chris Paul, who has admittedly not been at 100 percent this season with a sore knee. Nonetheless, he’ll be the first All-Star standing in the way of Phil Jackson’s fourth three-peat. Of Kobe Bryant’s sixth ring. Of Pau Gasol’s fourth straight trip to the Finals in his four years wearing Purple and Gold. Of NBA history.

The Lakers know what’s at stake, and after another long season of 82 games, 57 of them wins, it’s time to begin what they consider the real season.

Their chance to prove themselves a team for the ages begins at 12:30 p.m. at STAPLES Center.

HORNETS: Dragging a cumbersome knee brace around for much of the season, Paul hasn’t always looked like the player that many still call the league’s best point guard. The Lakers respect for Paul hasn’t gone anywhere, but he’ll have a heavy burden to carry with limited mouths to feed with his pretty passes (N.O.’s offense ranked 27th in the NBA). LAKERS: Fisher’s primary job on offense against New Orleans is simple: make sure Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum get enough touches against the Hornets’ front line. Meanwhile, no one in the NBA can really guard Chris Paul, but since he spends most of his time in pick-and-roll sets and rarely goes all the way to the rim, the brainy Fisher is more equipped defensively than one might think.

ADVANTAGE: Hornets. Even if Paul isn’t 100 percent or full of talented offensive teammates, he’s still a fantastic player with a fierce competitive edge that’s earned him the full respect of Kobe Bryant, who refers to Paul as his little brother.

HORNETS: Belinelli was his team’s best (and NBA’s 16th best) three-point gunner at 41.4% (45.9% in the final 12 games), a critical skill to have with Paul creating open looks. Yet Belinelli doesn’t do a great deal else, and because his wing mate Trevor Ariza has struggled on offense all season, Bryant won’t have to expend a great deal of energy on defense. LAKERS: The best news for the Lakers heading into the playoffs: unlike last season at this time, Kobe Bryant is healthy. The Black Mamba remains the driving force, the beating heart of the Lakers, and he played all 82 games suffering at worst an ankle sprain. L.A. could not say last season at this time, when Bryant needed knee surgery, but found a way to get through the playoffs anyway.

ADVANTAGE: Lakers. We won’t spend a lot of time detailing this one, though one added bonus is the Italian Belinelli & Italian-speaking Bryant can chat in a foreign tongue.

HORNETS: Ariza has struggled offensively in stints with Houston last season and New Orleans this year, hitting just 39% FG’s & 30% from 3 (he did score at least 19 points in three of N.O.’s final six games). He’s the same disruptive presence on D as ever, but could have trouble dealing with the strength of either Bryant or Artest. LAKERS: Is there a better perimeter defender in the NBA? Many around the league still say no. Ron Ron has been the Keyser Soze on that end for the league’s fourth-best FG D, and his 37% from 3 since the All-Star break isn’t bad. But N.O. has some of the weakest offensive wings in the NBA, meaning Artest’s top skill isn’t as paramount in Round 1.

ADVANTAGE: Lakers. Artest is a better all-around player than Ariza at both ends. The numbers show as much, though Artest’s defensive dominance alone would be enough to tip the scale.

HORNETS: We’d be talking about David West and his team-best 18.9 ppg were he not to have torn his ACL on March 24, but instead it’s Landry, whose acquisition in a midseason trade with Sacramento for Marcus Thornton proved more critical as such. Landry’s been effective in West’s place, leading N.O. in scoring as a starter (15.4 ppg), but the loss has been felt on the Hornets bench. LAKERS: Fact – since Pau Gasol became a Laker, the Lakers have gone to the Finals three times in three tries. That’s not a coincidence, of course, the Spaniard being the league’s best and most efficient offensive big man, while pitching in effectively on D and the glass particularly late in games. His extra three to four inches over Carl Landry mandates that he get the ball more often even than usual.

ADVANTAGE: Lakers. N.O. has no answer for Gasol. L.A.’s 2nd All-Star, having started all 82 games and led the Lakers in minutes (37 mpg), is eager to have refreshed legs with just one games in the seven days after the regular season finale.

HORNETS: The UCONN product is not a major part of the Hornets offense, attempting only seven shots per game, but is the anchor of a defense that allows the fourth fewest points and 12th worst FG% and gives up the fewest second-chance points in the NBA. That said, L.A. is probably the worst matchup in the NBA for the 6-10 Okafor, who’s strong, but gives up considerable length and size to Bynum and length and agility to Gasol. LAKERS: So defensively dominant was Andrew Bynum out of the All-Star break that Gasol and Lamar Odom seemed content to at times do less. But when Bynum had his knee scare on April 12, Odom said it served as a reminder that he and his teammates can take nothing for granted. While L.A. is concerned with how the bone bruise will affect Bynum, the 7-footer is telling everyone not to worry, that he’ll be just fine.

ADVANTAGE: Lakers. Even if Bynum isn’t back to 100 percent at the start of (or throughout) the series, his sheer mass should weigh considerably on New Orleans as it did in the regular season.

HORNETS: West’s injury really hurt the Hornets bench, which had been led by Landry inside and Jarrett Jack out. Jack, N.O.’s best reserve, averaged double figures in March and April, while forward Jason Smith played well in 19 minutes per game in the last five games of the season. Aaron Gray is the only literally big big man (7-0, 270) on the roster expected to see regular minutes. LAKERS: Hornets Coach Monty Williams said back in January that there was “no question” that Odom is the best bench player in the NBA. He elaborated, discussing just how difficult Odom is to account for while preparing a scouting report, and was among the earliest on the “Lamar for Sixth Man” campaign. In Steve Blake’s absence, it should be Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Luke Walton joining Odom and either Gasol or Bynum on a second unit that has not been very effective of late.

ADVANTAGE: Lakers. With minutes reduced in the playoffs, the general play of both benches becomes less critical, so having a player like Odom to deploy can have a major impact. L.A. will certainly be looking to shore up a consistent rotation from its second unit, however, to avoid pushing Fisher’s or Bryant’s minutes up too high in Round 1.

ABOUT THE HORNETS

  • A major strength of New Orleans is their ability to take care of the basketball. They rank first in the NBA in fewest points allowed off turnovers (14.56) on their 13.02 T.O.’s/game, which ranks third.
  • Going hand-in-hand with that ball control is the Hornets’ desire to control tempo, which they do by playing at the second slowest pace in the NBA. They allow the fourth fewest points and score just the 27th most, designed in part to take advantage of Chris Paul’s terrific play in crunch time.
  • The Hornets are 25-6 when holding opponents under 100 points at home in 2010-11.
  • New Orleans has won 19 of their last 26 overtime games dating back to the 2006-07 season, again showcasing Paul’s ability to get good looks for teammates or score himself down the stretch.
  • Anybody around the Hornets will quickly tell you that the team has terrific chemistry, facilitated in part by first year coach Monty Williams. Long time Hornets radio voice Gerry Vaillancourt told us that it’s among the best chemistry he’s witnessed in his 21 years in the NBA, which accounts for the team winning 46 games despite Paul’s knee, West going out of the line up and limited talent on the wings.