April 9, 2012
A three-point attempt by Kobe Bryant in the final minute of regulation has spelled bad news for the New Orleans Hornets twice over the past month. With the Hornets hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, theyre hoping to not just hang with the Lakers this time, but also hand them a costly defeat. On March 14 in New Orleans, the Hornets were on the verge of posting an upset over the Lakers, but Bryant earned three free throws when he was fouled by Gustavo Ayon with just 19 seconds remaining in regulation. The All-Star shooting guard sank all three foul shots, creating a tie at 93. Los Angeles outscored New Orleans by a 14-8 margin in overtime, escaping with a 107-101 victory.
A little over two weeks later on March 31, New Orleans led by 10 points in the fourth quarter on the Lakers home floor, before Los Angeles rallied back into the game. Trailing 85-83, Bryant calmly drained a three-pointer from the left wing, giving the Lakers a one-point advantage with just 20 seconds remaining. Los Angeles held on for another nail-biting victory over New Orleans, this time prevailing 88-85. Ironically, Bryant had suffered through one of his worst games of his career prior to his clutch three-pointer. He finished 3-for-21 from the field, after missing his first 15 shots.
Jarrett Jack has been superb for the Hornets in the two games vs. the Lakers, leading the team with 30 and 18 points, respectively. Jack was 13-for-21 from the field in the March 14 contest. His backup, Greivis Vasquez, has also given Los Angeles fits, averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists, while shooting an outstanding 12-for-18 (66.7 percent) from the field.
The Hornets only had eight players available on March 31, but came within a whisker of securing what would have been one of their more memorable wins of 2011-12.
Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Eric Gordon vs. Kobe Bryant
Hornets head coach Monty Williams said recently that he believes Gordon will become a Western Conference All-Star at some point in his career. Bryant is a 14-time All-Star, having played in every midseason showcase since 1998. The two players shared the same home arena for the past three seasons, when Gordon was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT: LOS ANGELES LAKERS
For the first time in several years, the Lakers have had to fend off a legitimate threat to their supremacy in the Pacific Division. With their fellow Staples Center tenants, the Los Angeles Clippers, making significant improvement in 2011-12, its been a two-team race for first place in the Pacific. However, the Lakers posted a critical victory on Wednesday over the Clippers, giving them a small cushion, as well as the tiebreaker by virtue of a 2-1 season-series edge. Of course, the Lakers have loftier goals than winning another division crown, but overtaking the Clippers will guarantee them one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference. The Lakers won the NBA championship in both 2009 and 2010, but were surprisingly swept out of the second round of the 2011 playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers pulled off an interesting move at the trade deadline, when they acquired point guard Ramon Sessions from Cleveland, while trading longtime clutch shooter Derek Fisher (who eventually wound up signing with Oklahoma City). Though unheralded due to the fact that he has played exclusively for bad teams in his NBA career, Sessions is much quicker than Fisher, giving the Lakers a threat to penetrate the lane and draw fouls. On the downside, he lacks the perimeter shooting of Fisher, who sank countless momentous three-pointers for the Lakers in past postseasons. The pressure will be on Sessions during the 2012 playoffs to prove that Los Angeles made a wise move by bringing in the relatively untested 25-year-old.
Like many players when they begin to the enter the twilight years of their career, Kobe Bryant may not be as consistent game in and game out as he once was, but the shooting guard still leads the league in scoring at age 33. If there is one weakness in his offensive game, its definitely his long-range shooting hes been below 30 percent this season from three-point range for the first time in 10 years. The Hornets have done a commendable job defending Bryant this season, limiting him to 3-for-16 accuracy from beyond the three-point arc. Overall, the 16-year pro is just 13-for-41 from the field (31.7 percent) against New Orleans this season, though he delivered big late-game offensive plays in both Lakers triumphs.
Laker on the rise
Seven-foot center Andrew Bynum has enjoyed many excellent games against the Hornets during his seven-year NBA career, but the 24-year-old is playing well against everyone in 2011-12. En route to making his first All-Star appearance in February, Bynum has averaged roughly 18 points and 12 rebounds, overtaking Pau Gasol as the Lakers No. 2 scoring option. Without Bynums dominating presence in the paint, Los Angeles might be 0-2 against New Orleans instead of 2-0. The New Jersey native has averaged 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds in the victories over the Hornets. He has also made 17 of his 27 field-goal attempts.
On the sideline
Replacing a legend is never easy. After winning five NBA championships with the Lakers (along with the six rings he earned as sideline leader of the Chicago Bulls), Phil Jackson retired from coaching last season. That paved the way for Mike Brown to take over the helm, after Brown had spent the previous season working in television. Brown, who was fired by Cleveland not long before LeBron James infamous Decision, has always emphasized defense, one of the reasons the Cavaliers became a perennial contender. As is the case with virtually all Lakers seasons, Brown has encountered some drama of late, but will ultimately be judged based on how the ultra-successful franchise fares in the postseason.
Did you know?
Formerly known as Ron Artest, the Lakers small forward legally changed his name during the 2011 offseason to Metta World Peace. The word Metta translates to loving kindness. As is typical of the quirky small forward, though, he explains that he doesnt mind if people call him by his previous name, partly because his mother still calls him Ron.
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