Five Observations: Lakers 107, Hornets 104

Friday, April 11, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

New Orleans (55-24) nearly rallied all the way back from a 30-point deficit Friday, but couldn’t overtake Los Angeles (54-25) in the closing minutes, dropping a key game in the race for the Western Conference’s top spot. As a result, the Hornets must win each of their remaining three games to guarantee themselves the No. 1 seed in the West playoffs. If New Orleans loses any of the trio of contests, it will require help in other games.

What a wild night in the Staples Center. Through one half, it looked like the Lakers were going to win in a one-sided rout. Just as soon as you started to think Los Angeles had this one in the bag, New Orleans put together a huge run bridging the third and fourth quarters, to pull within four points of the lead. But the Lakers regained the momentum and kept the Hornets from getting over the hump. New Orleans never led in the entire game.

More from the three-point loss in Los Angeles:

1) The MVP duel.
Kobe Bryant (29 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) nearly registered a triple-double and was on the floor for 44 minutes. He made several prototypical Kobe shots that could only be described as high-degree-of-difficulty, buckets that were scored despite solid defense by his Hornets defender. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard consistently moved the ball and tried to spot open shooters - he took “only” 17 field-goal attempts despite constantly having the ball in his hands.

Chris Paul fought his way through a 15-point, 17-assist game that was hampered by foul trouble. Paul had to come out of the game after being whistled for two fouls in the first quarter, and later had to sit portions of the fourth period after getting tagged for personal No. 5. He totaled 40 minutes of playing time. CP3 did not have one of his better offensive games, going 4-for-13 from the floor. He also had four steals and three turnovers.

2) Halftime role reversal.
New Orleans appeared to be a step or two behind L.A. on both ends of the floor through the first 24 minutes, leading to a 65-45 halftime deficit. The Hornets rotated slowly defensively, got dominated on the boards and got overwhelmed by an aggressive Lakers D.

In the second half, New Orleans was the aggressor. For whatever reason, L.A.’s player movement on the offensive end seemed to screech to a halt, allowing the visitors to begin creating turnovers and forcing the Lakers into contested shots. New Orleans wound up with a 59-42 second-half edge.

3) Although six reserves play, only two log more than 10 minutes.
If you’re wondering how extensively Byron Scott will use his bench in the playoffs, Friday’s game may have provided a couple hints. In what was probably the most important game to date of the regular season, the only bench guys to factor significantly were Jannero Pargo (22 minutes, 17 points) and Bonzi Wells (20 minutes, 6 points).

Even though Tyson Chandler was saddled with major foul trouble at times, Scott opted to risk keeping him in the game instead of using one of the backup centers. As a result, Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely saw six and five minutes of action, respectively. Armstrong netted three quick fouls in the first quarter, and the Hornets were minus-14 with him on the court. In part due to Chris Paul’s foul trouble, Mike James was on the court for a surprising 10 minutes. James didn’t do much individually stat-wise, but New Orleans was plus-10 with him in the game.

4) Scoreboard watching.
The Hornets have been fortunate to receive some help in recent days, but no such luck Friday. To no one’s surprise, San Antonio (54-25) handled Seattle easily in the Alamo City. In Houston, the Rockets (54-25) knocked off Phoenix (53-27). So the Spurs and Rockets moved within one game of the Hornets in the Southwest Division standings, but the Hornets have the tiebreaking edge on both rivals, meaning their magic number to claim their first-ever division title is 2.

On the plus side, the Suns’ Friday defeat means that Phoenix cannot catch New Orleans. The Hornets’ magic number to wrap up homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs is down to 1. A win or a Utah loss will seal it.

5) Blog question of the night: Should the MVP be the player whose team finishes No. 1 in the West?
There were about a million articles written going into Friday’s game saying that Hornets-Lakers was a referendum on who will win MVP, Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. That’s a great way to hype a game, but when the regular season ends Wednesday, if New Orleans has a better record than Los Angeles, does Paul still rank higher with voters than Bryant?