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. Im 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), lets take a look at each of the reasons listed and how theyve 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, theyre down to 93.8. Los Angeles is an explosive offense team, but it hasnt 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. Its 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 hasnt 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, theres 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 shouldve been the first thing listed in the argument for why New Orleans can win a postseason series. It seems obvious, but sometimes its 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.
Theres no other way to put this: Carl Landrys value has been underrated by just about everyone. Many still view him as only a quality reserve hes definitely been one of the most effective in the league but hes shown in countless instances during his career that he can handle a larger role. You might call Landrys 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 thats 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, theyve shot a combined 31 percent since Game 2.
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.