By: Bob Licht, @hortonhomers
April 14, 2011
The Hornets are certainly bringing more than a sIing and five stones with them to this David versus Goliath battle; but Chris Paul might want to reconsider any offers of armor to bring into the fight against the two-time defending champion LA Lakers.
Dont let the fact that Phil Jacksons tallest warrior (7-0 Andrew Bynum) is already injured lead you to believe the task at hand just got easier. All that means is a heavier than normal dose of 6-10 Lamar Odom and the Hornets havent had an answer for the best sixth man in the league all season long. Dont be misled by the numerous injuries to Kobe Bryants body parts (finger, knee, ankle), or his six-figure late season fine for verbal abuse. Kobe is Kobe. The best clutch shooter of our time, and the leagues 6th-leading scorer, will be ready for the NBAs Second Season. 7-0 Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the game, averages a double double, commands a double team, and may be the best passing frontcourt player next to Tim Duncan. And you certainly dont want to let your guard down because LA recently lost 5-straight games for the first time in four years. Folks, this is the same City of Angels team that barreled past the rest of the league after the all star break going 17-1 to make a run at the top record in the association.
Still, the Hornets have a chance to surprise the Lakers in this series and become the biggest story of the post season.
First, they have to BELIEVE they can win the series. Earlier this season Monty Williams and his staff admitted their team didnt appear to think they could compete and defeat the two-time champs. It was as if they (psychologically) had lost before the opening tip happened. They have to believe the Lakers are four cubits and a span (6-feet-10) and not six cubits and a span (10 feet tall). They have to believe all it takes is one stone to the center of the forehead to bring LA to the ground. Something like splitting the first two games at the Staples Center could do the trick.
Second, they have to understand their own history. Twice this franchise has struggled with a behemoth in the regular season only to respond with spectacular post season upsets. During the 2010-11 regular season the Lakers dominated the Hornets, sweeping the series, 4-0. Although water cooler talk believes there were four blowout losses to the champs, facts dont back that up. LA won the four games by an average of 10.7 ppg, but two straight games in the series were determined by a TOTAL of 10 points.
|12/29||@ NO||103-88 L|
In 1993, the Hornets lost the regular season series to the McHale/Parish Boston Celtics 3-1. It was their first post season appearance ever, yet they bounced back from an opening game loss to win the playoff series 3-1. The more dramatic example came in 1998 when the 50-win Atlanta Hawks, led by Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, and Mookie Blaylock easily handled the Hornets in sweeping a four game regular season series by an average of nearly 17 ppg. Not only did the Hornets score the upset, they did it on Atlantas home floor, 3-1.
|SEASON||OPPONENT||SERIES||1ST ROUND PLAYOFF|
|WON 3 GMS TO 1|
|WON 3 GMS TO 1|
I know what youre thinking: different teams, different era, and shorter series. But, my point is upsets do happen and underdogs can outplay bigger, taller, more talented opponents who dominated during the regular season. The Hornets also have a recent history of playing extremely well against the best opponents. This season theyve stoned playoff-bound San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Portland, Memphis and Atlanta two times each, while whipping Miami, Boston, OKC, Philadelphia, and Indiana, all teams in the playoffs.
Third, they have to utilize and maximize their assets. Sure theyre undermanned (leading scorer David West out for the season after left knee surgery) and undersized (6-10 starting center Emeka Okafor, 7-0 reserve center Aaron Gray, and seldom used 7-footer D.J. MBenga are their tallest options inside). But the Hornets have the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul. LA has never been able to contain good point guards and they have been witness to the greatest performance ever by a Hornets point guard (CPs 21 assists in 2007). He must dominate. CP3 doesnt have the luxury of an off game in this series. So, its imperative that his teammates allow that to happen. They must hit open jumpers so LA has to pay for double teaming Chris, catch passes only Paul can make, move without the ball, and play the same way that helped them win the majority of their games this season with defense. For the first time in franchise history the Hornets led their conference in scoring defense, allowing just 94.0 PPG. They won 85% of their games (39) when holding opponents under 100 points. But the stat that will define this series for the Hornets is this:
LOS ANGELES IS 2-12 (14%) WHEN SCORING UNDER 90 POINTS THIS SEASON.
Fourth, they must understand and exploit the few weaknesses LA has. Sometimes the Lakers Triangle offense is its own worst enemy, morphing Kobe from The Black Mamba into The Black Hole as he attempts to dominate the ball. If Lamar Odom is forced to start, LAs bench will be weakened. Its already been one of their Achilles heels this season WITH him. Ron Artest is an enigma. Exploit the fact that some games hes Ron-Ronsome games hes Hennessyand some games hes thanking his psychiatrist. And, make Fisher show his age. Derek is one of the toughest players in the league and always seems to hit big shots. But hes 36 years old. Make him look it. Its okay for Gasol to get a double double, just not 20 and 20. Its okay for Kobe to get his average, just make him take 26 shots for 26 points. LA didnt win 70 games. They lost 25 times. They lost 5-straight this month. They tend to have a short attention span. Treat the Lakers like any other opponent and you have conquered the psychological part of this series.
Montys mantra has been all about changing the Hornets culture in a no excuses, blue collar, defense -always -trumps -offense philosophy. Its how they were the last team in the NBA to lose a game this season. Its how they tied a franchise record with 10-straight victories. Its how they overcame adversity to win 46 games. Its how they surprised the experts by making the playoffs. And, its how Monty Williams will be David to Phil Jacksons Goliath.
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