Behind Team-First Mentality, Hornets Defying All Predictions
By: Jim Eichenhofer, @Jim_Eichenhofer
April 25, 2011

New Orleans power forward Carl Landry is one of the friendliest people youll ever meet, always quick with a joke or a laugh. Its fairly common to see the 27-year-old sitting in the Hornets locker room with a huge grin on his face, showing off some of the replacement teeth hes needed after getting a few accidentally knocked out during his four-year NBA career.

If theres one thing that will quickly remove the ever-present smile from Landrys expression, though, its the suggestion that he and the Hornets were facing an insurmountable disadvantage against the two-time defending champion Lakers in the playoffs. On paper, Los Angeles is a much bigger team than New Orleans, is far more postseason-tested and has a larger group of household basketball names, headlined by superstar Kobe Bryant.

Dont try telling Landry and his teammates that any of that matters. In a best-of-seven first-round series that has already gone further than virtually everyone predicted, New Orleans hasnt shown any signs of being intimidated. Landry, whos terrorized the Lakers immense frontcourt in the paint despite giving up several inches to 7-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, has personified the inspired play by the Hornets.

(The Lakers are) bigger than us, but that doesnt mean theyre going to be successful against us every game, or that were just going to be some pushovers, Landry said, shaking his head. Nah. We dont (have any fear). Paint points are huge in this series. Thats what weve got to continue to do attack. Were getting them in foul trouble and putting them in pick-and-rolls. Weve just got to keep doing what weve been doing.

From the moment it was determined that it would be Hornets vs. Lakers in Round 1, the series has been billed as "David vs. Goliath," a reference to New Orleans underdog status. Its a role that the Hornets and their organization have thoroughly embraced. During the fourth quarter of a closely-contested Game 4, for example, the team played a video on their BuzzVision screen that compared the Hornets role in this series to memorable underdogs such as the 1980s USA hockey team and movie characters The Karate Kid and Rocky. It closed with the words: MAKE HISTORY. GEAUX HORNETS!

The video drew one of the bigger ovations of Sunday night from a standing room-only crowd of 18,000-plus fans.

We dont have anything to lose, Landry said, before using several Rocky-inspired references to explain the Hornets mentality against the favored Lakers. Keep swinging. Keep punching. Going into halftime (of Game 4), you could kind of see that (the Lakers) were getting frustrated with one another. We were like, Keep punching. Theyre about to break. Keep punching. Thats what we did.

The Lakers are almost like New York was when I was growing up as a kid. (Playing against them), its a big stage. Everybodys trying to knock off the top team, which is the Lakers. If you want to win a championship, youre going to have to knock off the Lakers, anyway. So why not go out there and have the best game you possibly can have against the best team?

The Hornets may not have needed any more motivation than that, but first-year head coach Monty Williams provided some in his Game 4 pregame speech, which stressed the importance of sticking together and helping each other. Williams emphasized the point by showing his players a popular YouTube video called "Battle at Kruger" (which has 60 million-plus YouTube hits), a dramatic wildlife scene. In the eight-minute video, a group of buffaloes rescue one of their young from a lion attack, by outnumbering the lions and refusing to give up on saving their calf. The message, in part, was that the Hornets can overcome obstacles by playing as a team.

I had never seen (the video) before, guard Jarrett Jack said. But it was an amazing thing, to see what you can do when you band together.

Landry: The message was to fight and stick together. The message meant more to us as a team. He gave us a great speech. He said to fight. Situations and people in life go through different things, but they make it out because of their fight. Come out and fight and leave it all out on the floor.

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