Five Observations Lakers 109, Hornets 80

Wednesay, January 9, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

The Hornets haven’t disappointed fans much over the past few weeks, but there’s no way around it: Wednesday’s showdown vs. the Lakers was a letdown for the home team. In a matchup of up-and-coming Western Conference clubs, Los Angeles handed New Orleans its biggest home loss of the season, based on the final margin. The Hornets hadn’t lost a game in the Big Easy by more than 15 points (vs. Detroit) in 2007-08.

The Lakers (23-11) dominated play from the get-go, going up by double digits almost immediately. The Hornets (23-12) never made much of a run, preventing the home crowd of 15,605 from getting involved or becoming a factor.

Chris Paul did as much as he could to try to keep New Orleans competitive, piling up 32 points. David West added 19 points, but the rest of the roster was only 11-of-44 from the field (25 percent).
br> The Hornets will try to shake off a rough night in 48 hours, when they host the Miami Heat on ESPN’s national TV game Friday.

Five observations from the 29-point defeat at the New Orleans Arena:

1) New Orleans allowed 100-plus points for a third straight game, but this one was the most troublesome.
The Hornets had gone 10 consecutive games without giving up 100 points or more, prior to doing so last week in back-to-back contests at Golden State and at Phoenix. But New Orleans won both of those road tilts, and the Suns and Warriors rank No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring, so no big deal. However, when the Lakers easily cracked the century mark Wednesday and shot 55 percent from the floor, it was reason for some concern. New Orleans has been one of the better defensive teams in the league all year, but this was one of its most porous outings so far. The Hornets actually did a credible job on Kobe Bryant, forcing him to take several tough shots – he made some of them, to no one’s surprise – and holding him to 19 points. Frankly, though, with his teammates playing at a high level, Bryant didn’t need to force much offensively. He handed out seven assists, finding open shooters regularly (Los Angeles went 9-for-21 on treys).

2) In a rarity, edge in the pivot goes to the opposition.
If you’ve only seen Lakers center Andrew Bynum’s stats and haven’t gotten to watch him play, Wednesday was an eye-opener. Bynum has improved his footwork tremendously and brought out a couple old-school moves that led to baskets over Tyson Chandler. Chandler has been tremendous all season, with few quiet games, but Wednesday he netted only seven rebounds, along with 11 points. Bynum was an efficient 8-for-10 from the field and had 17 points, all during the first three quarters.

3) Lakers’ bench dominates Hornets.
The L.A. reserves, who are calling themselves the “Bench Mob” – a shameless theft of the nickname Sacramento subs used when Bobby Jackson played there – have been credited with playing a large role in the Lakers’ great start to 2007-08. Facing a New Orleans second unit that has been a weakness, the home team hoped to at least not get overwhelmed in this matchup, but that’s what happened.

The Lakers enjoyed a 42-9 scoring edge from the backups. New Orleans’ guys off the bench were 3-for-21 from the field. After another rough showing, Byron Scott discussed the possibility of making a trade to add someone who can help.

“We’ve got to get something better off the bench,” Scott said. “I’m just waiting to see what we can do.”

The Hornet starters have scored 87 percent of the team’s points in the previous six games. Hornets radio analyst Gerry Vaillancourt mentioned this about the Hornet bench: “People around the league are saying that if this team improves (in its reserve unit), it can be in the elite category.”

Scott: “Obviously we’re going to continue to look (at trade possibilities). Jeff Bower is going to continue to make and take calls (from other teams). Our bench has got to get better. I think our starters can play with anybody in this league, but we need pieces off that bench that can supply energy and hustle. We’re going to be aggressive as far as looking at other guys (from other NBA teams).”

4) Hornets get beat on boards by better rebounding team.
New Orleans entered Wednesday as the NBA’s 15th-best rebounding squad, with a differential of +0.85 per game. Los Angeles was No. 7, at +1.84. The Lakers’ final rebounding edge over the Hornets was only 45-40, but that was misleading. L.A. set the tone early by outworking its hosts on the glass.

“They did a good job of boxing out. We didn’t come out with an aggressive mindset,” Scott said. “They were more physical. We didn’t match the energy right from the start.”

5) The buzz on… Melvin Ely.
As Scott searches for effective options off the bench, Hornets fans have to hope that Ely can make an impact after missing nearly a month due to injury (fractured eye socket). The 6-foot-10 forward/center played for the first time since Dec. 12, scoring three points and grabbing five rebounds in 14 minutes of action. He is sporting a mask, similar to the one worn by Detroit’s Richard Hamilton. Prior to his injury, he had one three-game stretch in mid-November in which he tallied 10 points or more each time. His low-post scoring ability is much-needed from a team that doesn’t dump the ball down to the block often. It’s even more crucial for a second unit that hasn’t been able to score consistently all season and has had several games like Wednesday’s combined 3-for-21 shooting outing.

Two on-the-rise West squads meet in New Orleans

We've already seen a handful of marquee opponents - including San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix and Cleveland - visit the New Orleans Arena this season. But in my book, tonight's 7 p.m. game vs. the Lakers (22-11) may be the most intriguing Hornets home contest of 2007-08 so far. The Lakers are similar to the Hornets (23-11) in that they weren't necessarily expected to be a top Western Conference club entering the season, but they've been a very pleasant surprise. I'm interested to get an up-close look at Kobe Bryant's altered approach, which has him in more of a distributing role and less apt to fire up 30 shots in a game. The last time we saw him in the Big Easy, Bryant definitely appeared to believe he needed to put up huge numbers to give his team a chance to compete. The result was a 50-point game against the Hornets in March.

For an insider's look at the improved Lakers, check out our Rival Report with writer Nick Kioski. During the game, I'll be providing updates in our Courtside Live blog.