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NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans

Apr 14, 2011, 11:42 AM EDT

Pau Gasol, Willie Green AP

SEASON RECORDS
Lakers: 57-25 (No. 2 seed)
Hornets: 46-36 (No. 7 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Lakers sweep 4-0.

KEY INJURIES
Lakers: Andrew Bynum, he has a bone bruise in his surgically-repaired right knee due to a fall Tuesday night against San Antonio, he said he could play but the Lakers may be cautious with Game 1; Matt Barnes has had a knee problem but is expected to go for the playoffs; Steve Blake has the chicken pox and could be out a week or more. And stop laughing at him, it’s not funny.
Hornets: David West, the team’s leading scorer, will be out for the series after having his knee reconstructed.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Lakers: Off. 107.9 (7th in NBA); 101.3 (6th in NBA)
Hornets: Off. 103.8 (19th in NBA); 102.5 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEY LAKERS

Pau Gasol: The question is not if Pau Gasol is capable off scoring on the Hornets, he can score on anyone. The question is will the Lakers guards get him the rock? The Lakers have this habit of just going away from getting the ball into the post because… well, nobody knows why. Phil Jackson would like to know why. Without David West the Hornets have to use Carl Landry to cover Pau Gasol, and last meeting Gasol had 23 points on 14 shots in that situation. The Lakers need to exploit that matchup until the Hornets adjust.

Lamar Odom: The Hornets are not a very deep team, when the two teams go to the bench the Lakers have a big advantage, and soon to be Sixth Man of the Year is key to that. The Hornets have nobody who can match up with him, he can get Bynum some rest for that knee and present serious matchup issues for the Hornets.

Andrew Bynum: The Hornets are going to run a lot of pick-and-roll, about 21 percent of their offense either comes from the ball-handler (Chris Paul) or the roll man on this play. Plus they got a lot of spot up opportunities off this play. The Lakers center has started to lay back on those — by design — and give up jumpers to take away penetration, but when asked can he show out on Paul and recover with Emeka Okafor? It matters this series, it will matter more in future rounds.

THREE KEY HORNETS

Carl Landry: David West was at the heart of everything the Hornets did, and Landry is his replacement. He has stepped up on offense — in the team’s last 10 games he has been the leading scorer at 14.9 points per game on 51.8 shooting. He is going to have to keep that up and then go to the other end of the floor and defend Gasol. If the Hornets are to have any chance Landry is key.

Chris Paul: The Lakers do not defend point guards well, and there is no better point guard in the league than CP3. The Lakers will likely try to hide Derek Fisher by asking him to cover Hornets coach Monty Williams (“Hey, just go stand by the guy in the suit”) and that means a combination of Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant on CP3. Paul has shot 41.5 percent in the Hornets last 10 and 20 percent from three. That will not do it here. Simply put, he is going to have to be amazing both scoring and passing to steal a game from Los Angeles.

Trevor Ariza: The former Lakers will be looking for a measure of revenge. He also will draw the Kobe Bryant cover. You need to get Kobe shooting a lot, particularly jumpers, and not running the offense to beat the Lakers and Ariza has to goad and challenge Kobe into that mode.

OUTLOOK

With all due respect to how well Landry has played, the Hornets really need David West here. The offensive problems that West created would have challenged Pau Gasol more and maybe tiered the Spaniard out some.

Look for the Hornets to try to pick-and-roll the Lakers to death, the Lakers strategy has been to lay back on that and dare you to beat them with the jump shot. Paul is going to have to both knock down shots and find ways to get some easy buckets inside for his teammates. They need to get Andrew Bynum and his balky knee on the move, the problem is the Hornets are not really a running team.

Emeka Okafor also is going to have to have a monster series on the glass for the Hornets to have a chance.

PREDICTION

Without West the Hornets do not have the firepower. They didn’t really with him, but without him the Hornets (like most teams) just cannot match up with the length and skill of the Lakers front line.

Lakers in 5.

  1. fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 14, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Yes, my team of heroes, THE Lakers, shall overcome all obstacles to win a championship. I will sit in the basement of my parent’s home and cheer for them! Kobe, who is my own personal most Lakerish of all Lakers, will easily handle the New Orleans horde.

    I have recovered from the scare that Mr. Bynum gave me by getting a boo-boo on his knee. My mighty Lakers shall, again, be victorious and I shall scream a loud and mighty Huzzah!!!!!

    • italyprodigy - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM

      basement, nice.
      “Winning.”-Charlie Sheen

  2. purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    This matchup was an expected, but nonetheless very disappointing draw. There’s nothing here that’s even remotely interesting; it’s a total cake walk for the Lakers. It would have been MUCH more interesting had the Lakers drawn Portland, but of course that could still happen in a later round.

    So please, Laker Homers, spare us all the inevitable bandwagon bravado when the Lakers sweep the Hornets because it doesn’t mean squat; the Hornets and Memphis are nothing more than poster children as to why the NBA needs to contract 4-6 teams and drop the number of teams making the playoffs for 14 to 12 or 10.

    • aqzi - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:45 PM

      Don’t jinx it

    • passerby23 - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:51 PM

      I was watching the scoreboard praying Sacramento could pull off the upset and drop the Lakers to the #3 seed where they would have to face a much more dangerous Portland team and have to go on the road to Dallas in the second round. Instead, they secured the #2 seed, homecourt advantage, and the easiest possible matchup in New Orleans. Not only that, but Dallas and Portland are going 7 games while the Lakers are resting after a sweep.

    • mytthor - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:56 PM

      Disagree. The poster children to which you refer all reside out east. The Hornets would be a dangerous team if West were there – basically that same team was the preseason favorite to win the west a few years ago. Paul may have lost a half step but he’s still a top PG in the game and an MVP candidate. MVP candidate plus all-star (west) means relevant team – they just aren’t very deep. Peja is showing signs of life too. Memphis is also a good team – they have solid borderline all-stars at the 2-3-4-5 positions. Z-Bo and Gasol is probably the best twin towers setup in the league other than Gasol/Bynum.

      • purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 1:34 PM

        mytthor… don’t believe everything that you read or hear from the media, as the power conference is quickly shifting from the west to the east and will continue to do so as the Lakers and Spurs continue to age. No argument though that the east could do without Indiana and Philadelphia in the playoffs this year, just as the west could do without Memphis or New Orleans.

        Obviously these four teams had to be good enough to make the playoffs and all have a player or two who can be difference makers, but my point is none of them have much more of a chance to make it to the NBA Finals than a snowball does making a trip through hell and back.

        The NBA playoffs simply are too-oooooo long. There are two ways to address that problem:

        1) Make the first NBA playoff series a best of five instead of the current best of seven. Due to TV scheduling, when there are first round blowouts (as frequently happen), the winning team winds up cooling their heels waiting an inordinate amount of time for their next series to begin; and

        2) Have only the top 7 teams from each conference gain automatic entry to the playoffs and then create 1 wild card “play in” best of three series featuring teams 8-9 in each conference.

        By adding a wild card play in best of three series it would:
        add interest to the end of the regular season, as it would provide hope for teams on the bubble as well as added incentive to make the 7th slot so as to avoid the additional best of three wild card series AND cut the length of the NBA playoffs by at least a week.

        This would also make the lottery more relevant, as it would take out two more teams that shouldn’t IMO have any shot at the top three picks anyways.

  3. italyprodigy - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    But nonetheless, I believe we will roll by the Hornets, especially when they dont have David West. The challenging task will be the Spurs or Mavericks perhaps. It wont be a breeze this year. But i do believe in us being in the championship when all is said and done. Kobes ice cold championship blood will ignite again this upcoming weekend. Always wonderful to watch.

  4. purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    mytthor… don’t believe everything that you read or hear from the media, as the power conference is quickly shifting from the west to the east and will continue to do so as the Lakers and Spurs continue to age and the big stars continue to go east to New York, New Jersey, Miami and Chicago.

    No argument though that the east could do without Indiana and Philadelphia in the playoffs this year, just as I maintain the west could do without Memphis or New Orleans.

    Obviously these four teams had to be good enough to make the playoffs and all have a player or two who can be difference makers, but my point is none of them have much more of a chance to make it to the NBA Finals than a snowball does making a trip through hell and back.

    The NBA playoffs simply are too-oooooo long. There are two ways to address that problem:

    1) Make the first NBA playoff series a best of five instead of the current best of seven. Due to TV scheduling, when there are first round series blowouts (as frequently happen), the winning team winds up cooling their heels waiting an inordinate amount of time for their next series to begin; and

    2) Have only the top 7 teams from each conference gain automatic entry to the playoffs and then create a new wild card “play in” best of three series featuring teams 8-9 in each conference.

    By adding a wild card play in best of three series it would:

    * Reward the top 7 teams in each conference with 4-7 days off to rest up;
    * Provide hope for teams on the bubble that would otherwise be eliminated under the current format;
    * Add incentive for teams to make the 7th slot so as to avoid the additional best of three wild card
    series AND cut the length of the NBA playoffs by at least a week.

    This would also make the lottery more relevant, as it would take out two more teams that shouldn’t IMO have any shot at the top three picks (as they currently do), anyways.

    • mytthor - Apr 14, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      It’s not something I hear or read from the media, I watch basketball games. Memphis or a healthy New Orleans could beat any of the teams in the bottom 4 out east in a series. I don’t think that every team in the playoffs needs to have a chance to win the title. Agree that the first round should be 5 games, it added more of a punchers’ chance to the 1-8 matchup.

      I guess if you think everyone in the playoffs should be able to win the title, yeah, it should be contracted. Why shorten the playoffs; they actually matter! Shorten the regular season if anything.

      • purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 2:35 PM

        mythtor… You make a couple of good points, but I don’t rank the conferences based on top to bottom strength, only by middle to top strength. The law of the jungle is such that there will always be crappy bottom teams in both conferences and given your example if anything a stronger top to bottom west conference this year is more indicative of parody than strength IMO.

        I do agree with you about shortening the regular season, and I’ve really been stumping now for a few years for MLB to do the same thing. In the case of baseball, if baseball were to go back to the original 154 game schedule, it would shorten the season, allow time for a new best of two wild card playoff play in series and pull back the Championship Series and World Series games by a week to ten days so as to not have to go so much head to head against the NFL and NCAA football conference play (which would boost TV viewer-ship and thereby future rights fees).

        The reason that I bring this up though is because while the loss of 8 regular season baseball games to expand the playoffs and shorten the season would be more than offset by the added playoff game revenues, in the NBA how would you compensate small market teams for the lost revenue from regular season games that they automatically receive from season ticket holders?

      • momo988 - Apr 14, 2011 at 3:01 PM

        “I don’t rank the conferences based on top to bottom strength, only by middle to top strength.”

        There are 15 teams in each conference. That means the 7-8 seeds are the middle of each conference, so Indiana, Philly, Memphis and New Orleans are germane to the discussion.

      • purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 3:36 PM

        morno… certainly… Indiana, Philly, Memphis and New Orleans should be part of ranking the strength of the two conferences, but none of them really matter… at least not this year. All these four teams are going to do is waste a lot of time and prolong the playoffs unnecessarily.

        So what if Memphis has one or two upcoming players and New Orleans has an established impact player in Paul. Their teams overall simply aren’t much (if any), better than Philly and Indiana. Can’t really compare these teams across conferences either though, because the other conference just doesn’t play these teams often enough for those games to be statistically relevant.

    • passerby23 - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:29 PM

      purdueman:

      I like your thinking outside the box, but an 8-9 wildcard play-in series just doesn’t make sense. If it’s a best-of-five series, we’re talking a potential 10 days off for the #1 seed who would play the winner. You spoke about the playoffs dragging on too long. I agree with the best-of-five first round series, but make it across the board like they used to have. Two scenarios would like result with the play-in series:

      (1) If an 8/9 seed manages to battle through five hard-fought games, they earn the right to be slaughtered by a well-rested, homecourt favored #1 seed. That’s not very viewer friendly. The seeding format provides for homecourt, it shouldn’t provide for extra rest too.

      (2) The #1 seed is rusty for having sat out for so long.

      In either case, it waters down the overall product which is what we want to avoid in the first place.

      • purdueman - Apr 14, 2011 at 6:23 PM

        passerby… Good counter points, but a couple of further thoughts to add:

        1) I think that the fans are getting cheated when they are paying full ticket prices the last week of the season when all of a sudden the players that they paid to see are suddenly in street clothes or given only token minutes in order to “rest” them for the playoffs.

        Did you see the interview with Amarie during the Bulls-Knicks game the other night? Thank God he was dressed in a sharp looking business suit and not that hip hop crap, but he told (I think it was), Craig Sager that he was: “100% and could have gone tonight, but the team was just being cautious”. Give the top 7 teams in each conference a week off for the wild card play in series and then drop heavy fines on any teams that pull such crap (i.e., sitting starters who aren’t injured); and

        2) The NBA lottery as we now know it is a farce with 14 teams. Dropping 2 more by adding a play in series makes it more meaningful.

        To counter your point about an added best of 5 game play in wild card series providing too much time off for the automatic qualifiers, you’re right. Make it a best of three game series and play the first game on the road against the team with the lower won loss record, a one day travel break, then play back to back games (if needed), on the home court of the team with the better record.

        Then have a three day break and start the best of 5 series. This would only add one week on, but that would be offset by gaining a week by shaving down at least the early best of 7 series now back to best of 5 series instead.

        The NBA Finals though need to, and should remain, a best of 7 series IMO.

  5. passerby23 - Apr 15, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    purdueman:

    Allow me to counter your counter points.

    1) Sure, fans get “cheated” at the end of the season when top players sit out for rest. However, you kind of know what you’re getting when you buy those tickets. You know the Spurs were going to be resting players with such a big lead. That doesn’t change with an 8-9 play-in game anyway. The teams scrapping their way in aren’t the ones resting players. Moreover, the solution shouldn’t be play-in games to fix this player sitting out deal, it’s lowering ticket prices. You pay less when you know Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum are sitting in favor of Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, and Luke Walton. I would also add that it’s the basketball PLAYOFFS where the most entertaining games are desired, not the regular season. Would you rather see exhausted stars playing lacklustre playoff basketball or rested and energetic players?

    2) What if the 8 seed was five games up on the 9 seed? So the 9 seed gets hot, wins two games (maybe because the 8 seed had a couple injuries?), and they advance? How does that reward the body of work for the 8 seed who clearly produced a more quality season than the 9 seed? Again, watered down product.

    The draft lottery does have flaws, but I’m not sure how much more could be done. I don’t think your solution is the answer.

    • purdueman - Apr 16, 2011 at 11:02 AM

      If I was in LA and thought that I’d be going to see Barnes, Ratliff and Walton play, you wouldn’t have to lower the ticket prices passerby, you’d have to PAY ME the face value of the ticket and the cost of parking, two beers and a dog to go!

      The key piece of my proposal is to cut the first playoff series down to a best of five. Only Laker fans want to see a best of seven garbage matchup like the Lakers and the Hornets. Talk about a watered down product!

  6. passerby23 - Apr 16, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    I agree with you, the Lakers and Hornets is probably going to be the second-most lopsided series next to Chicago-Indiana and it’s going to be painful to watch. And, no, I wouldn’t pay a penny to watch Ratliff and co. play either.

    Still, the things you propose wouldn’t fix the problem. If David West were playing, it might be a little more competitive series. Or better yet, maybe the Hornets don’t face the Lakers and we’re talking about a more interesting playoffs. Injuries are going to happen and there are still going to be some weak teams from year to year. We can’t ask for perfection.

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