NBA Preview: Lakers at Hornets

April 9, 2012

The last time the Lakers and Hornets met, Kobe Bryant had by far one of the worst games of his career.

He missed his first fifteen shots and went scoreless through the first three quarters, and yet it wasn’t enough for the Hornets to come out victorious. Kobe delivered in the fourth quarter, doing just enough down the stretch to save the Lakers from a disastrous home loss.

The good news for New Orleans is that Kobe’s status is questionable for Monday’s game, having sat out the Lakers previous game against Phoenix Saturday night. Kobe is suffering from inflammation in one of the tendons in his left leg, and Lakers trainer Gary Vitti is clearly taking great precautions with it.

If Kobe suits up on Monday, the chances he plays anywhere near as badly as he did the last time he faced the Hornets are slim at best.The five-time NBA champion is not only leading the league in scoring, but is also averaging more attempts per game (23.4) than he has since the 2005-2006 season, when he averaged a career-best 35 points a game.

While Kobe may have not been completely there for the Lakers in their last meeting against New Orleans, the Hornet’s Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon weren’t there at all. Both were sidelined due to injury, and the Hornets were forced to cut down their rotation to a measly 8 players.

New Orleans can take comfort in the fact that they’ll have their best player back in the lineup on Monday in Eric Gordon. While Gordon isn’t a bona fide superstar, he does possess the kind of youth and athleticism that has consistently plagued the Lakers' defense throughout the last decade, this season being no exception.

Transition defense and perimeter defense remain the Lakers most outstanding flaws, and getting beat by athleticism has almost become a tradition for them over the years.

The formula for beating LA has never been a mystery: force jump shots, dictate an up-tempo pace, and take them out of their half-court groove.

The Lakers have gotten younger with the acquisition of Ramon Sessions, but they’re still primarily a half-court team. The best bet for the Hornets will be to feed off the energy of their home crowd and play fast, play loose, and suck the Lakers into an up-tempo game for which they are ill-suited.

For the Lakers, their success will be determined less by the Xs and Os and more by their level of focus. Against teams so clearly overmatched like New Orleans, the Lakers success lies in their ability to exploit their unique size advantage with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

However, such has been easier said than done. With a 12-16 record away from Staples center so far this season, they’ve been wildly inconsistent on the road, even against the most glaringly inferior teams.

This game will be more about the Lakers than the Hornets. Given the sort of ambiguity that surrounds the Lakers on the road, the outcome on Monday won’t be determined by how the two teams fare on paper. It’ll be determined rather by the level of engagement on the part of the Lakers team as a whole.

This season they have been notorious for mentally checking out on the road and sporadically losing focus.

Ultimately, the question isn’t whether LA can beat New Orleans, but whether they can avoid beating themselves. Such would require a cohesiveness and focus that has been seldom seen from them so far.

The Lakers are obviously a much better team, and with only 10 games left and playoff positioning at stake, they have substantially more to gain with a win Monday night.

Whether or not they will act like it is the question.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

1 comment:

  1. even without kobe, lakers should beat this crappy team tonight


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