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NBA Playoffs: The Lakers get back on track

Apr 27, 2011, 2:36 AM EDT

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Getty Images

There was no one matchup that swung in the Lakers’ favor on Tuesday night. There wasn’t one key play that ended up making all the difference late in the game, although Kobe Bryant‘s turn-back-the-clock dunk in the second quarter did help swing the momentum their way. There wasn’t a noticeable change in their offensive strategy, and they still had trouble containing Chris Paul. None of that ended up mattering.

As it turned out, the Lakers didn’t need to make any big adjustments to power through the New Orleans Hornets and take a 3-2 series lead — they simply needed to play the way everyone knows they are capable of playing. Even though the Hornets have managed to take two tough games from the Lakers in this series, and still have a chance to win two more if the Lakers stop executing and Chris Paul goes off again, Game Five showed that the Hornets don’t have any answers for the Lakers when they play their game. There’s a reason why it can be so frustrating to watch the Lakers when they lose — when they win, they make it look so easy.

Even though the Hornets were able to shoot the ball well against the Lakers, the defending champions outclassed them in every area. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest were able to manhandle the Hornets in the paint and on the boards. The Lakers scored 67 of their 106 points from the paint or the free-throw line, and outscored the Hornets 22-2 in second chance points.

After the game, Phil Jackson said that the “hustle points” went the Lakers’ way on Tuesday, and that the second-chance points were “the key to the win.” Hornets coach Monty Williams also noted that his team needs to figure out a way to match the Lakers’ physicality, saying “there was more focus to be physical” in Game 5 and that a lot of what occurred was “just not basketball, so it’s just one of those things we have to recognize that kind of play and overcome it.” Chris Paul also acknowledged the Hornets’ physicality, saying that the Hornets “need to figure out a way to play physical without fouling.” It will be hard for the Hornets to overcome the Lakers’ massive size advantage up front, but they will clearly need to figure something out in order to stay alive in this series.

Out on the perimeter, Kobe Bryant found the perfect balance between patience and aggression. He was content to run the offense and set up his teammates for most of the game, but he also had a few key scoring bursts, most notably at the end of the second quarter. After Bryant was called for a questionable continuation foul on Trevor Ariza, he came right back down the court and unleashed an electrifying dunk on Emeka Okafor that completely galvanized the Staples Center. After the game, Shannon Brown said that it was Kobe’s biggest dunk “since he had an afro,” and Kobe said that the dunk was a message to his teammates that “the series is important — they know I don’t have many of those left in me anymore.” Needless to say, Bryant’s ankle was much less of a concern after the game than it was before it.

Kobe and the Laker bigs had it going, and the Lakers’ role players did their part as well. The Lakers’ second unit didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor, but they were able to hit some timely threes, and their energy provided what Phil Jackson called “a major boost” to the Lakers when they checked in. When the Lakers are locked in like that on offense, there’s not much that a defense can do to slow them down.

Offensively, the Hornets didn’t do poorly by any stretch of the imagination. Chris Paul didn’t dominate the game like he did in the Hornets’ wins, but he still finished with 20 points on 12 shots and 12 assists. Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza shot as well as anyone can possibly expect Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza to shoot, and Willie Green continued to make impossible floaters. Even though the Hornets barely got any offensive production out of their bigs and turned the ball over 17 times, their loss was more a product of the Lakers’ offensive execution and dominance on the glass than anything they did wrong offensively.

As Trevor Ariza put it after the game, “[The Lakers] played well. There’s nothing that we can say. I don’t think we didn’t fight or we didn’t play well, I just feel like they played better than us. That’s it.” Unfortunately for the Hornets, there’s a lot of truth in what Ariza said. The Hornets are a scrappy team that plays good defense, has some outside shooting, and has Chris Paul, but there are reasons why the Lakers won 11 more games than the Hornets did in the regular season. The Lakers’ big men are both bigger and more skilled than the Hornet bigs, the Lakers are deeper than the Hornets are, and while Chris Paul has arguably outplayed Kobe in this series, Kobe is still Kobe.

The Hornets have put up a great fight in this series, and it’s hard to count them out with the way Chris Paul has been playing. However, it’s even harder to shake the feeling that if the Lakers play like this one more time in the next two games, there’s not going to be a lot that the Hornets can do to avoid elimination.

  1. king3319 - Apr 27, 2011 at 3:46 AM

    As an avid Laker fan I was glad and happy to see many things finally fall into place tonite..but I’m definitely not under any illusion they can still pull off a 3 peat. I want to see it happen but teams like Boston and Chicago look awfully damn good and if the finals were to start today I might go as far as to say we’d see a game 6 but I would have serious reservations about my Lakers chances

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:36 PM

      what kind of Laker fan are you, disgusting.

  2. breeshasabush - Apr 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    I dont wanna sound like a minnesota Viking fan but can anyone talk about how completely biased those calls were last night???? Ive never seen so many phantom calls in my entire life. The game was over before it even started bc of it… makes me sick to my stomach how biased the refs are to “superstars” and “big market” teams when they’re at home. The only way the hornets get a fair game is on their home court, SOMETIMES. I know everyone complains ab refs when their team loses but last night was sickening.

    • passerby23 - Apr 27, 2011 at 12:40 PM

      I agree, the officiating was awful, but the Lakers were also better. As much as I want them to lose, they’re just a better team. I’m hoping Dallas wraps it up tonight so we can see that matchup next round.

      I said it at the beginning of the series, the key to the series isn’t Chris Paul. He can play spectactular and they will still lose as long as the Laker bigs impose their will.

      • breeshasabush - Apr 27, 2011 at 2:59 PM

        THANK YOU!!! The Hornets have played them tough and have proved we CAN disrupt the bigs enough if our front court can stay out of foul trouble. If okafor would settle down and stop playing so nervous and if Gray can man up and grab some rebounds we still have a punchers chance…. but not if they’re gunna call ticky tac fouls on us and let the lakers players LITERALLY punch Hornets players in the face with no repocussions (Paul, Belinelli, Landry). Shannon Brown should have been suspended for that elbow he tried to land, had he landed it he would have knocked the guy out…. but hey its the Lakers!

    • SmackSaw - Apr 27, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      The league doesn’t want the Lakers to lose. I’ve been a Laker fan for 33 years. Calls are going to go their way during the early rounds of the playoffs, especially at home.

    • hornetsnola - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:01 PM

      There were so many bogus calls going the lakers way it was ridiculous! Our hornets players could tap one of the lakers and they would have called a foul but when carl laundry went up twice and both times had his arms hammered the refs didn’t call anything! I went to the game here this past Sunday and I witnessed that during the start of the third quarter.. This game they started it right off the bat wasting no time to give the lakers a huge advantage. I hate how hate how all of this is the result of big markets. More money for the NBA to have the lakers continue playing then have the hornets upset the Lakers.

  3. omniusprime - Apr 27, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    Was there really any doubt that the Repeat World Champion Lakers would respond when the hard playing Hornets tied the series 2-2 that the Lakers would come out like gangbusters and send the message that this series is over and the Hornets can look forward to going fishing after Thursday night’s game? Sorry folks but the Lakers are just too big and too tough to be denied a Threepeat!

  4. zblott - Apr 27, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    The Lakers shot 19 free throws in the 4th quarter – how fortunate.

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:36 PM

      and the Hornets shot zero………..

    • lunasceiling - Apr 27, 2011 at 6:22 PM

      In all fairness (and believe me, I’m no Lakers fan), the Lakers were doing what they needed to do: getting the ball to their bigs and attacking the basket. That gets you to the line. NBA officiating can be atrocious, sure…but this wasn’t an example, in my opinion.

      This has been a great series. The Hornets have showed a lot of guts, and no team with Chris Paul can be counted out, ever. But with the Spurs playing like they are, it’s sure looking like the Lakers are coming out of the West.

  5. byrmcph - Apr 27, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Why are guys afraid to put Kobe on his back?

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:43 PM

      cause the boy is bad, he is a bad boy……..

      brooklyn Laker fan

  6. gabrecan - Apr 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Woo thunder up!

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:49 PM

      yeah, that offensive machine Perkins will out play the
      hall of famer who is currently # 5 on the scoring list.
      Perkins is a thug, he has no game but to hack, I want to see
      him without that other thug KG.

  7. fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 27, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    The Lakers did not get “back on track,” this has been the plan all along. Anytime they lose a game, it is only because Phil and Kobe decided they needed to in order to lull the competition into a false sense of security. And, as they proved last night, it works!

  8. rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    so they challenged Kobe about his ankle /foot and his ability to play with pain so what does he do, he dunks on them boyz, the Mamba is whicked, how long didn’t you see him dunk, don’t play with dat boy, you peoples be craZy.

  9. rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 27, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    John Krolik, Kobe Dunked for the haters and the Refs and to show people
    he is the baddest mfer on the block son.

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