Defense, Paul, Landry among keys in series tie

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

A few days before the start of the Hornets-Lakers series, I wrote an article that listed reasons why I believed New Orleans had the ability to win a playoff series. I’m sure some who read it immediately dismissed it as overly optimistic, particularly given that the Hornets’ first-round opponent was the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers. A week later, with the Hornets tied in the series entering Game 5 on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. Central, TNT), let’s take a look at each of the reasons listed and how they’ve fared:

The Hornets probably deserve an A in this category, or at least a B-plus. After the Lakers averaged 101.8 points against the Hornets in a regular-season sweep, they’re down to 93.8. Los Angeles is an explosive offense team, but it hasn’t topped 100 points in any game so far. In addition, Lakers stars Kobe Bryant (42 percent on field goals) and Pau Gasol (40 percent) have shot well below their season norms.

Success against elite foes.
Obviously, the Lakers are a formidable foe. It’s tough to measure traits such as confidence and determination, but it clearly appears as though the Hornets have not been intimidated by playing against a team that is bigger, has more experience and possesses more star talent. Over the four games, the Lakers have outscored the Hornets by a total of just nine points. It was a 187-187 draw in the games played in California.

Ability to go on a hot streak.
The series hasn’t followed any pattern yet, especially since the Hornets were more effective on the road in Games 1 and 2 than at home in Game 3. However, there’s no question that New Orleans is playing much better than it did late in the regular season. If the Hornets can pull out what would be a momentous Game 5 road victory, the momentum will unquestionably shift in their favor.

A difference-maker at point guard.
In hindsight, this probably should’ve been the first thing listed in the argument for why New Orleans can win a postseason series. It seems obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how much one player can sway the outcome in basketball. If anyone needed a reminder, Chris Paul has provided it, with a pair of historic performances in Games 1 and 4.

A capable fill-in at power forward.
There’s no other way to put this: Carl Landry’s value has been underrated by just about everyone. Many still view him as only a quality reserve – he’s definitely been one of the most effective in the league – but he’s shown in countless instances during his career that he can handle a larger role. You might call Landry’s scoring average of 17.0 points in the series a surprise – except he averaged 17.6 points in his first seven regular-season starts in place of David West.

A bench that’s gotten better.
This category has been a mixed bag. Without a superb Game 1 performance from the second unit (39 points), the Hornets would not have gotten the landmark road victory they needed to demonstrate that they had a chance in this series. In the three games since, however, the reserves have tallied 13, nine and 18 points, respectively. More tellingly, they’ve shot a combined 31 percent since Game 2.

Preparation time.
Tough to measure, but the best game the Hornets have played in the series was during Game 1, which was preceded by three days of practice and prep time.

Nothing to lose.
All of the pressure in the series is on the Lakers. When they lose, there is an outcry from media and fans. The Hornets have embraced an us-against-the-world mentality. Other than for stretches of Game 3, NOLA has seemed to play aggressively and loose, necessary traits for a team trying to pull off a series victory almost no one thought was possible.