By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
February 5, 2011

In a Western Conference matchup on the eve of Super Bowl XLV, the Hornets try to break through for their first victory of the season in three tries against the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers. In prior matchups on Dec. 29 and Jan. 7, Los Angeles prevailed by scores of 103-88 and 101-97.

While going 20-5 in the New Orleans Arena, the Hornets 15-point loss to the Lakers was their largest margin of defeat. Following that frustrating loss, however, New Orleans reeled off victories in six of their seven home contests during the month of January.

The clubs will meet once more after Saturdays contest during the 2010-11 regular season, when New Orleans heads to the City of Angels for a March 27 game. The Hornets must win each of the remaining two head-to-head games with the Lakers to force a tie in the season series. That could be a potentially important consideration, because the teams are separated by only a couple games in the standings.

The Lakers have been championship contenders nearly every season for the past decade, winning three consecutive NBA crowns from 2000-02 behind the superstar tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille ONeal. Following ONeals departure to Miami, the Lakers experienced a down period by their standards, including missing the playoffs in 2005. However, L.A. has now won the Western Conference championship three straight years, and prevailed in the NBA Finals in 2009 and 2010 over Orlando and Boston, respectively.


Power forward, David West vs. Pau Gasol
Not including this season, West and Gasol have made a combined five All-Star appearances, including being teammates on the 2009 Western Conference All-Star squad. Teamed with 7-footer Andrew Bynum and versatile 6-foot-10 reserve Lamar Odom, Gasol and the Lakers create a formidable test for opposing frontcourts. The Hornets bigs are a bit undersized height-wise compared to most NBA teams, making it even more imperative that players like West and Emeka Okafor box out in the paint. Los Angeles outrebounded NOLA by an overwhelming 44-24 margin in the Dec. 29 game here, one key to the Lakers runaway victory. The visitors led by 23 points through three quarters.

A closer look at the Los Angeles Lakers:

Derek Fisher

Lamar Odom

Unfortunately for the Hornets, theyve already been on the receiving end of a pair of vintage Kobe Bryant performances this season. The future Hall of Famer helped turn back a late comeback attempt by New Orleans in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, making key baskets in a 101-97 victory. Bryant finished the game 10-for-19 from the field, part of a 25-point performance. In the Dec. 29 triumph here in the Big Easy, Bryant tallied 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field. Although he was held below his scoring average in that road triumph, the Lakers only needed him to play a total of 28 minutes, due partly to their significant fourth-quarter lead. Bryant was also whistled for five personal fouls in that game.

Ultra-steady veteran point guard Derek Fisher has established a reputation during his 15-year NBA career as a clutch shooter who drills three-pointers in key spots. So far in the pair of games against the Hornets this season, however, hes been more of a distributor who sets up teammates for open looks. Fisher has totaled 14 assists against the Hornets.

Reserve guard Shannon Brown is enjoying the best season of his career, improving noticeably in his perimeter shot. The Michigan State product has made a minimal impact against the Hornets thus far, though, going just 4-for-11 from the field (but 3-for-4 on three-pointers).

A former teammate in Portland of Jarrett Jack, backup point guard Steve Blake is a similar player to Fisher, with his primary strength being an ability to knock down spot-up shots.

Pau Gasol, who helped transform the Lakers into a championship-contending team upon his arrival in 2008, is one of the most skilled frontcourt players in the NBA. The former Memphis Grizzlies standout has hurt the Hornets most this season on the backboards, where hes grabbed a total of 25 rebounds in two games. The 7-foot native of Spain has also gotten to the foul line frequently (18 attempts) while converting a high percentage of his often close-range looks at the basket (9-for-13 from the field).

Once considered one of the NBAs best two-way players, excelling at both ends of the floor, Ron Artest has struggled at times in his 12th professional season. The Lakers often rely on their small forward to make open perimeter shots, but Artest is hovering around 40 percent from the field in 2010-11. The often-combative 31-year-old has been somewhat quiet vs. NOLA this season, averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 32 minutes per game.

Despite coming off the bench when the Lakers are near full strength health-wise, Lamar Odom has arguably been among their three most valuable players this season (behind Bryant and Gasol). The versatile left-handers outstanding 2010-11 has been illustrated by a pair of excellent performances against New Orleans. Odom is averaging 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds against the Hornets, featuring 18-for-30 (60 percent) shooting from the field. In the Dec. 29 meeting in the Crescent City, Odom provided a highlight by following up his own late-game missed shot with a dunk on a fast break.

A former Philadelphia teammate of Willie Green, hard-nosed reserve Matt Barnes is sidelined with torn knee cartilage. He sustained the injury in early January and was expected to miss two months of action.

As a result of Barnes injury, Luke Walton has seen his role increase recently. The son of Hall of Famer center Bill Walton received DNPs in both games vs. the Hornets.

A 7-footer who tips the scales at a muscular 285 pounds, Andrew Bynum has been nearly impossible for New Orleans to move out of the paint in previous matchups. Bynum has collected a large share of offensive rebounds, point-blank layups and dunks simply by attacking the rim. Over the two games vs. NOLA this season, the sixth-year pro is averaging 17.5 points on 15-for-25 (60 percent) shooting from the floor.

Rookie Derrick Caracter is the last of just 10 different Lakers players whove seen action against the Hornets this season. Caracter made a brief fourth-quarter cameo on Dec. 29, going scoreless in one minute of playing time.

Players the LAL/NOH want shooting free throws in a close game
Kobe Bryant
Derek Fisher
Shannon Brown
Steve Blake
Pau Gasol
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
David West
Marco Belinelli
Marcus Thornton
If the LAL/NOH need a three-pointer, their best options are
Steve Blake
Derek Fisher
Shannon Brown
Ron Artest
Kobe Bryant
Marco Belinelli
Marcus Thornton
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Willie Green
Career FT percentage (through Jan. 30) Career three-point percentage (through Jan. 30)

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