March 14, 2012

The last time the New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers met in Louisiana, it was Game 6 of the first round of the 2011 Western Conference playoffs. After an extremely hard-fought series, the Lakers eliminated the Hornets by a 98-80 margin on April 28, 2011. So much has changed for the Hornets in the ensuing 10-plus months, including a significant roster overhaul. Of the 12 New Orleans players who saw action in that season-ending defeat to Los Angeles, half of them are no longer with the team. The Lakers also have undergone a shakeup since then, losing a few key components of what had been one of the NBAs more effective benches.

While the Hornets will miss the NBA playoffs in 2012 for just the third time in their eight full seasons played in New Orleans, the Lakers are vying for the Pacific Division crown with their same-city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Hornets could have at least some say-so in the Pacific race, because they still have a total of six games remaining against the pair of L.A. franchises. Following Wednesdays meeting, New Orleans will play the Lakers in the Staples Center on the afternoon of March 31, the same day the semifinals of the Final Four will take place in the Superdome. The Lakers will return to the Big Easy on April 9 to wrap up the three-game season series between these squads. Meanwhile, the Hornets face the Clippers three times in the span of a month, all from March 22 through April 22.

Starting with Wednesdays game, the Hornets will play 21 of their final 24 contests against teams from the Western Conference.

Intriguing matchup: Bench vs. bench
When the Lakers lost Lamar Odom (traded to Dallas) and Shannon Brown (free agent to Phoenix) during the abbreviated 2011 offseason, they had to scramble to replace two valuable pieces. Many opponents have taken advantage of the Lakers reconfigured reserve unit, which has struggled at times to generate offense. For the Hornets, the challenge this season has often been simply trying to find enough healthy bodies to remain competitive. New Orleans has dealt with a constantly-changing rotation due to a slew of injuries, but players such as Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu have often been relied upon to spark the backups.


With 16 NBA championships in their history, the Los Angeles Lakers are the second-most successful franchise in the league by that measure, behind only the Boston Celtics (17 titles). After picking up their 15th and 16th NBA crowns in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers eliminated the Hornets from the first round of the 2011 playoffs, before being swept 4-0 by the Dallas Mavericks in the West semifinals. Having led the Lakers to five championships since 2000, head coach Phil Jackson decided to retire following the sweep against the Mavericks. Former Cleveland sideline boss Mike Brown took over last summer, faced with the unenviable task of replacing a legendary coach, while also trying to uphold the franchises lofty standards of competing for a ring on an annual basis. The Lakers were off to a choppy start under Brown early in the season, going 11-9 in their first 20 games, but have rallied to move into first place in the Pacific Division.

Lakers star
Kobe Bryant has been one of the NBAs superstar players for well over a decade. Now in his 16th pro season, the shooting guard remains a dangerous offensive threat and one of the sports most clutch end-of-game weapons. His shooting percentages are down somewhat this season, but the 33-year-old has battled multiple nagging injuries. He suffered a broken nose during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, when he was inadvertently struck in the face by Miamis Dwyane Wade on a drive to the basket. Bryant did not miss any action as a result of the injury, opting to don a mask that protects his nose from further damage. Along with his multitude of accomplishments, the 6-foot-6, 205-pounder has demonstrated his durability by appearing in each of Los Angeles first 41 games this season. He also played the maximum 82 games in three of the past four regular seasons.

Laker on the rise
Andrew Bynum joined Bryant as a Lakers representative at the 2012 All-Star Game, the first selection of Bynums career to the midseason showcase. The 7-footer is a traditional low-post center who uses his 285-pound frame to overpower defenders in the paint. Bynum also possesses an array of back-to-the-basket moves, averaging 17.1 points per game. Along with power forward Pau Gasol, Bynum gives Los Angeles two players who average a double-double in scoring and rebounding. The New Jersey native, who went straight to the pros from high school, had seen his progress slowed by injuries early in his career. In the previous four 82-game seasons, he never appeared in more than 65 contests.

On the sideline
Brown spent five seasons as Clevelands head coach, leading the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, still the franchises only appearance in that round. Brown registered seasons of 50, 50, 45, 66 and 61 victories over his half-decade with the Cavs, but still was fired following the 2009-10 season. During the same offseason, LeBron James signed as a free agent with Miami, announcing his intentions early in his infamous TV special The Decision.

Did you know?
As hard it as may be to believe given their substantial recent success, the Lakers were a non-playoff team just seven years ago, when they finished the 2004-05 season at 34-48. They didn't return to viable title contender status until midway through the 2007-08 season, when they landed Gasol in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in each of Gasol's first three seasons in the storied purple and gold uniform.

Players Lakers the want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Lakers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through March 12)
Has shot over 80 percent every season since 1998-99.
Rarely penetrates; averages only about one attempt per game.
Four-time All-Star is highly skilled power forward.
Name Career three-point percentage (through March 12)
Accuracy has dipped since joining Lakers last season.
Rookie guard provides instant offense off the bench.
Has made countless clutch treys in 16-year career.

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