Hornets.com postgame: Lakers 101, Hornets 97

Saturday, January 8, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Lakers (26-11), Hornets (21-16)

It was over when… All-Star big man Pau Gasol made one of two free throws with 2.6 seconds to go, giving the Lakers a two-possession edge at 101-97. The Lakers led by seven with 33 seconds left, but a combination of missed free throws and inexplicable fouls helped allow the Hornets to remain in the hunt until the waning ticks.

Hornets MVP: This was one of the most balanced performances of the season by the starting lineup, with all five players cracking double figures in scoring. Each starter had at least 11 points through three quarters except for Chris Paul, who cleared that plateau in the fourth. You could’ve easily given the nod to Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza or David West, but I’ll go with Belinelli, who had 14 second-half points out of his 17 for the game. West also enjoyed a productive second half, with 15 of his 23 points.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Jarrett Jack had one excellent stretch of play during the second quarter, when he tallied all seven of his points, including a nifty drive and conventional three-point play. Overall, the New Orleans bench again did not shoot well, going a combined 4-for-19 from the field.

The buzz on… changes to the lineup and rotation. Monty Williams vowed over the past few days to alter some of how he uses his bench, including making sure at least one or two starters are in the game at all times. As a result, New Orleans went the entire game Friday with at least one first-stringer on the floor. Part of Williams’ strategy – at least in Friday’s game, who knows if it will be a trend – was to reduce the playing time of Willie Green and Jason Smith. The latter didn’t enter the game until there was 3:21 left in the first half, which I believe is the latest he’s made his first appearance in a game during 2010-11. Williams also opted to bring in Aaron Gray relatively early; the 7-footer had three rebounds in eight minutes. Meanwhile, Paul and Ariza each topped 40 minutes. We’ll have to wait and see if Friday’s team performance – which was one of the better outings in a loss this season – leads Williams to increase playing-time allotments for the Hornets’ best players, while reducing that of the subs. That may be slightly easier to pull off in January – there are only three back-to-backs, and there’s a pair of stretches (Jan. 10-11, Jan. 27-28) of two full days off between games.

Blog question of the night: Continuing on our mid-term evaluations theme of this month, what overall grade would you give starting small forward Trevor Ariza, a former Laker? Ariza has appeared in all 37 games in his first season as a Hornet, after coming from the Houston Rockets in an August trade.