By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 6, 2013
Over the final six weeks of the 2012-13 regular season, the New Orleans Hornets will have multiple chances to play the role of spoiler, while facing opponents who are in contention for the Western Conference postseason. One such opportunity comes Wednesday, when the Hornets host the Los Angeles Lakers, who are in desperate need of victories in their quest to reach the playoffs.
Wednesday’s contest vs. the star-studded but disappointing Lakers begins a March stretch in which New Orleans hosts West playoff locks and hopefuls including Portland (Sunday), Golden State (March 18), Memphis (March 22), Denver (March 25) and the Los Angeles Clippers (March 27). The Hornets also have home tilts this month against perennial Eastern Conference powers Boston (March 20) and Miami (March 29).
In their third game against the Lakers this season, the Hornets will try to break through for their initial victory. On Dec. 5 in the Crescent City, the Hornets led 48-47 at halftime, but the visitors took over in the third quarter with a 30-16 burst. Kobe Bryant scored a team-high 29 points, including the 30,000th point of his illustrious NBA career. Ryan Anderson poured in 31 points for the Hornets and is averaging 23.5 points against the Lakers this season.
The Lakers and Hornets met again in the City of Angels during Super Bowl week on Jan. 29. Despite a furious fourth-quarter rally by New Orleans, Los Angeles held on for a 111-106 victory. Dwight Howard paced L.A. with 24 points, while Eric Gordon topped NOLA with 25.
The clubs will wrap up their four-game season series on April 9 in Los Angeles, part of a New Orleans five-game road trip that coincides with the NCAA women’s Final Four being held in the Big Easy.
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Steve Nash
Few NBA analysts would’ve predicted that the 26-year-old Vasquez would lead two-time league MVP Nash in assists per game by a wide margin this season, but Nash (7.2 apg) plays off the ball far more now than he did with Phoenix. Nash actually also averages fewer shots per game than teammate Metta World Peace, a glaring inefficiency given the players’ respective shooting percentages. Vasquez racked up 15 points and 15 assists vs. the Lakers on Jan. 29. Nash missed the first meeting on Dec. 5 due to injury.
When the already talented Lakers somehow added future Hall of Fame players Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the starting lineup last summer, it seemed like a championship run was a certainty for Los Angeles. Months later, the short-term objective is a much more modest one: qualify for the Western Conference playoffs. The 2012-13 Lakers campaign has been drama-filled, but not in a good way. There was a change at head coach just five games into the season, a myriad of injuries, subpar defensive play and difficulty finding the right chemistry at both ends of the floor.
As a result, the Lakers were just 30-30 and in ninth place in the West entering Tuesday’s game at Oklahoma City. The Lakers will need to get hot over the final 22 games of the season and hope that either Houston or Utah falters down the stretch.
Kobe Bryant remains the Lakers’ go-to guy on offense and unquestioned leader in his 17th NBA season. Bryant was off to one of the best shooting starts of his career early in 2012-13, but cooled in January and February. In 44 career games against the Hornets, the 34-year-old is averaging 25.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists, all roughly the same as his overall numbers.
On the rise
Considered a throw-in in the multi-team blockbuster deal that brought Howard to Los Angeles, power forward Earl Clark has done an admirable job filling in as a starter for injured Pau Gasol. With Gasol (foot) likely not able to return until the playoffs – if the Lakers get that far – Clark’s energy, scoring and rebounding could be critical. Slidell native Chris Duhon was also part of the same trade and a Clark teammate in Orlando.
The Lakers are only the 12th-best team in the NBA in three-point percentage (36.0), but take the third-most treys in the league, behind only New York and Houston. That may explain some of their inconsistency this season. L.A. is 25-for-61 (41.0 percent) against New Orleans this season, a key to its 2-0 record.
On the sideline
Mike D’Antoni is probably under more pressure than any NBA head coach, tasked with trying to turn around the slow-starting Lakers, who are loaded with big names but haven’t clicked for much of the season. Adding to the heat is that D’Antoni was hired by the front office instead of 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson, who was considering accepting the job when the Lakers tabbed D’Antoni.
Did you know?
The Lakers have only missed the playoffs once in Bryant’s decorated NBA career. During the 2004-05 season, after trading Shaquille O’Neal to Miami, the Lakers went 34-48.
|Players the Lakers want shooting free throws in a close game…||If the Lakers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…|