By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 5, 2012
Just two seasons ago, the New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers met in the first round of the 2011 Western Conference playoffs. Given what’s transpired since then for both franchises, it sometimes seems more like it was two decades ago.
Since eliminating the Hornets by capturing Game 6 of that first-round series – in what turned out to be legendary coach Phil Jackson’s final NBA victory – the Lakers hired Mike Brown to succeed the retired Jackson. Only five games into the current 2012-13 regular season, Brown was quickly replaced by Mike D’Antoni. Los Angeles also drastically reshaped the top of its roster this summer by pulling off blockbuster deals to acquire a pair of perennial All-Stars, center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash.
Meanwhile, the Hornets have transitioned from being league-operated from 2010-12, to the new ownership of Tom Benson. On the court, only one New Orleans player (Jason Smith) remains from the ’10-11 Hornets, who finished that regular season 46-36, good for the No. 7 seed in the West postseason field.
After a disappointing start that resulted in the rapid dismissal of Brown, the Lakers are trying to solve some of their early-season woes, including a porous defense and an inability to win on the road. Los Angeles entered its current road trip at just 1-4 in away games, with defeats against Portland, Utah, Sacramento and Memphis. The Lakers have had a very favorable travel schedule thus far, but that will change soon with numerous road games in the first two weeks of December.
This is the first of four games between the Hornets and Lakers during the 2012-13 regular season, including a return by L.A. to NOLA on March 6. New Orleans will face Los Angeles in the Staples Center twice, on Jan. 29 and April 9.
Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Ryan Anderson vs. Pau Gasol
Anderson-Gasol is worth watching on several levels, including that both players could be difficult for the other to guard on the defensive end. Anderson gives up a couple inches to Gasol in the paint, but Anderson’s long-range shooting accuracy could force Gasol to roam around the perimeter, where the 7-footer isn’t the most comfortable. In the Hornets’ recent shorthanded state, they’ve needed big games from Anderson to remain competitive against several tough opponents.
After somehow adding marquee talents Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a team that already included Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, many hoops analysts predicted that the Lakers would represent the Western Conference in the 2013 NBA Finals. Early in the regular season, however, Los Angeles has struggled to play .500 basketball, amid an injury to Nash, subpar production by several role players and underwhelming team performances on the defensive end.
In his return from a back injury he sustained last season, Howard does not yet appear to be 100 percent physically, though he has averaged a double-double and appeared in each of L.A.’s first 17 games. Nash was sidelined by injury in the second game of the regular season. Other new roster members include veterans Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon, a Slidell native.
Now in his 17th NBA season, Bryant remains the focal point of the Lakers’ offense. Individually, he’s off to a hot start, posting high shooting percentages overall and from three-point range. Bryant has had to carry too large of a load at times so far, most glaringly in a Nov. 27 game vs. Indiana. The 34-year-old poured in 40 points against the Pacers, but the rest of the Lakers only managed 37 points in a 79-77 loss.
On the rise
Second-year point guard Darius Morris only appeared in 19 games as a rookie, but as a result of injuries to Nash and Steve Blake, Morris was moved into the starting lineup early in 2012-13. The Michigan product has been a serviceable three-point shooter, but needs to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio at the helm of a star-studded club.
The always-unpredictable Metta World Peace is capable of breaking out with a productive offensive game, while also locking down opponents on the defensive end. Formerly known as Ron Artest, the forward legally changed his name during the 2011 offseason.
On the sideline
Mike D’Antoni took over as head coach after the dismissal of Mike Brown, only five games into the regular season. D’Antoni made his biggest mark in the NBA as head coach of Phoenix, where the Suns’ fast-breaking style helped make them fun to watch and an elite team. Nash won back-to-back league MVP awards under D’Antoni while both were in Arizona.
Did you know?
None of the Lakers’ “Big Four” attended a major Division I college. Bryant and Howard went directly to the NBA from high school, while Gasol is a native of Spain. Nash played collegiately at Santa Clara.
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