What needs to improve in Game 2

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

The word Hornets players and coaches have constantly repeated since the conclusion of Game 1 is “more.” If New Orleans is to deliver a performance similar to Sunday’s 109-100 victory against the two-time defending NBA champions, the Hornets will need more intensity, more energy and even more execution – though the latter may be difficult to do after only committing three turnovers Sunday, tying an NBA record.

There’s no question that there were a greater number of positives than negatives for the Hornets in Game 1. Still, even though many analysts believed New Orleans had to play a perfect game in order to defeat the Lakers, that wasn’t actually the case. As the Hornets head into Wednesday’s game at the Staples Center, here are a few of the areas they may need to improve in order to a take a 2-0 series lead:

1) Free throws.
New Orleans led for the vast majority of Sunday’s game by a relatively small margin, but squandered an opportunity to build a larger cushion by going a puzzling 5-for-13 from the foul line through three quarters. The Hornets made up for their early errant foul shooting by going 18-for-20 in the fourth period alone, for a total day of 23-for-33. Still, the team’s 69.7 percent at the stripe in Game 1 was well below the regular-season rate of 76.5. The poor start may have been a bit fluky, because Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack – 85 and 83 percent career shooters, respectively – were a combined 1-for-5 in the first three quarters. They went 13-for-14 in the fourth.

2) Perimeter defense.
Without delving into any specifics, Monty Williams said Monday that defense is one area the Hornets are focusing on during the two practices leading up to Game 2. “We did some things that were out of character for us,” Williams noted. “Our defense wasn’t where it should’ve been. We had a lot of activity, but there are certainly some things we can improve upon.” One area the Lakers excelled was perimeter shooting, going 6-for-13 from three-point range. New Orleans’ D also frequently clamps down for at least one quarter in which it holds the opponent under 20 points. That task is certainly more difficult against the Lakers than most, but L.A. managed at least 23 points in all four quarters.

3) Emeka Okafor foul trouble.
If not for an incredible performance by Aaron Gray, the fact that the Hornets’ starting center fouled out after playing only 22 minutes would’ve been a much bigger topic of conversation. Okafor’s four-point, two-rebound game was his fewest combined total (six) in those categories of any game in 2010-11. He simply could not avoid picking up the costly foul that sent him back to the sideline. Fortunately for the Hornets, Gray (20 minutes) and D.J. Mbenga (6 minutes) filled in admirably. “Aaron came in and did some damage,” Williams said. “D.J. was effective in the short minutes he played. We could see (the Hornets using multiple 7-footers) all series.”

It might be human nature for the Hornets to be content with one victory on the Lakers’ home floor and the way they performed in Game 1. But New Orleans players know that what took place Sunday doesn’t carry over to the Game 2. “That game is over and done with,” Paul said. “We’ve all got to bring more Wednesday.”