Tag:Andrew Bynum
Posted on: May 2, 2011 1:51 am
Edited on: May 2, 2011 12:29 pm

Mavericks-Lakers preview: The first time

A preview of the first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver.


I. Intro: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. No. 2 seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)

For the first time in the Dirk Nowitzki era, these two long-time Western Conference powers will face off in the playoffs. The Mavericks arrive in the Western Conference semifinals after knocking out the Blazers in six games. The Lakers are here by virtue of dispatching the New Orleans Hornets in six games.  Both teams are among the oldest in the league, sporting cores that have been through playoff fires together. (Obviously the Mavericks have been burned a bit worse than the Lakers). 

The Lakers and Mavericks were similarly effective during the regular season, winning 57 games and putting up very, very similar efficiency numbers. The Lakers were No. 7 on offense and No. 6 on defense while the Mavericks were No. 8 on offense and No. 7 on defense. The teams even played exactly the same pace during the regular season, slightly below league average.

The Lakers, however, were a marginally better rebounding team and a significantly better team when it comes to taking care of the ball. Dallas enjoyed one major advantage: they lead the league in assist rate, meaning that no one scores a greater percentage of their points directly from passes. That offensive balance is key as the Mavericks generally have four scoring options on the court at all times and do a nice job of maximizing those players' skills. 

The difference between these two even-on-paper teams could very well wind up being L.A.'s star talent. The combination of Kobe Bryant / Pau Gasol / Andrew Bynum / Lamar Odom is a vicious four-headed monster for Nowitzki to fight off with a supporting cast that is a fairly motley crew at this stage of their careers.  

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Lakers took the season series, 2-1, with all three games taking place since New Year's Day. Both Lakers victories came in March. The most recent one was a chippy 110-82 blowout victory at Staples Center that saw multiple ejections, including forward Matt Barnes for throwing Mavericks assistant coach Terry Stotts to the ground. 

The teams split in Texas, where Dallas took a high-scoring 109-100 affair in January while the Lakers won a March grinder, 96-91.

L.A.'s homecourt advantage is a factor here, but both teams are equally capable of stealing a game in this series. Not only did these teams have identical regular season records, they were also very similar in their home/road split. The Lakers were 30-11 at home and 27-14 on the road; The Mavericks were 29-12 at home and a league-best 28-13 on the road. Both teams won on the road at least once during their first round series, including dual Game 6 close-out victories on the road. 

III. Secret of the Series: Foul trouble

A critical determining factor in this series could be foul trouble, as the Lakers succeeded in pounding the paint over the course of their first round series against the Hornets. While Dallas has better bigs than New Orleans by a long shot, they aren't particularly deep in the front court. Center Tyson Chandler was regularly in foul trouble against Portland, a factor the Blazers weren't able to fully exploit because their own front court lacks depth and size. 

The Lakers, on the other hand, are perfectly suited to making Chandler pay if he gets two or three quick ones. Gasol, Bynum and Odom are all capable scorers and Bryant can get into the paint when necessary too. If Chandler is able to stay on the court, the Mavericks stand a chance. If not, they'll be hard-pressed to rebound on both ends and prevent second chance points, and it will put an even greater burden on Nowitzki. Expect the Lakers to attack this positional weakness much more aggressively and directly than they did in round one.  

IV. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Jason Kidd's three-point shooting and overall offensive orchestry was a major difference-maker in Dallas' series victory over Portland. Derek Fisher will gladly serve as the underdog in this match-up as long as he doesn't have to guard Hornets point guard Chris Paul again. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Despite all the talk about his ankle, Kobe Bryant surely looks healthy enough to enjoy great success here. The Mavericks are extremely weak at the two-guard spot, something they did well to overcome in their opening round series. DeShawn Stevenson and a ready-to-go Roddy Beaubois will set the table for sixth man Jason Terry, who came on strong late in the Portland series, but none are equipped to defend Bryant. Huge advantage: Lakers. 

SF: Shawn Marion was perhaps Dallas' most pleasant surprise in round one as he neutralized Portland's potential X-factor, Gerald Wallace, while also chipping in on the boards and with some scoring production. Ron Artest probably hasn't hit his stride yet but we're entering the part of the calendar when he is at his best, making everyone's life miserable and making heady hustle plays. Marion was good for 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in round one; Artest put up 11.8 and 5.0. Artest could very well end up winning out. For now, call this one a push. 

PF: Just as Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge was one of the must-watch first round matchups, so too will be Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol. There's no question about who played better in round one. Nowitzki carried the Mavericks by averaging 27.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while Gasol once again warded off criticism for his passive play. If there's a silver lining for Gasol, it's that he will have plenty of help from Artest, Lamar Odom and company in defending Nowitzki. Still, he will have his hands full. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: The Lakers should win the pivot. Andrew Bynum was dominant against the Hornets, putting up 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds while also blocking nearly two shots per game. Tyson Chandler isn't asked to score much, but he did rebound effectively against the Blazers, including a monster 20-rebound performance to help secure a Game 5 victory.  The key issue, as mentioned above, will be his ability to stay out of foul trouble. His back-up, Brendan Haywood, doesn't stand a chance in this series. Advantage: Lakers.

Bench: This match-up pits this year's Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, versus a perennial candidate for that award, in Terry. Both present defensive problems for their opponents but Odom is a particularly tough cover for the Mavericks. The burden will likely fall to Marion, who will have to wrestle with Artest and then track Odom all over the court. That's a lot for one man to bear. Dallas' reserves don't stand much of a chance of helping ease that load, either. The Lakers will continue to use Shannon Brown and Steve Blake to make life easier for Derek Fisher while the return of Beaubois could provide a much-needed athleticism and energy spark off of Dallas' bench, as J.J. Barea didn't get much done in round one. Terry aside, L.A.'s backcourt is a touch more proven and cohesive. Overall, slight advantage: Lakers.

Coach: Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle did an excellent job of making the necessary adjustments in round one but he had the deeper and more talented team on both sides of the ball. He will be on the other side of that equation in round two and that will make his life, and the adjustments, significantly more difficult. Meanwhile, Lakers coach Phil Jackson still has more rings than anyone can count and was able to pull L.A. through some stretches of sporadic play to knock off a feisty Hornets team. He's still got it. Advantage: Lakers.

V. Conclusion

The Lakers aren't playing perfectly but, in sum, are simply a cut above the Mavericks from a talent perspective. They've got multiple options to throw at Nowitzki, no other clear match-up disadvantages, multiple stars in Bryant and Odom that should be able to operate with impunity and a third in Bynum who could swing the series if he continues to show the unstoppable size/skill combination that he flashed in round one. The Mavericks are confident, capable of getting hot and smartly get to the line late in games, especially at home. Ultimately, that probably won't be enough. Prediction: Lakers in 6.

Posted on: April 28, 2011 11:28 pm
Edited on: April 29, 2011 1:26 am

Series in Review: Lakers-Hornets

Posted by Royce Young

Series MVP: Andrew Bynum

Yep, not Kobe. Bynum, often a critical figure in the Laker starting five, was big -- literally and figuratively -- for Los Angeles these six games. He averaged a double-double, capping it with an 18-point, 12-rebound, two-block performance in the deciding game. There was a big opportunity for Bynum because of the Hornets' lack of quality size inside, and Bynum exploited it all six games. Bynum has become the cornerstone to Laker success in the postseason and he's off to a pretty good start, I'd say.

Best Play: Kobe crams over Okafor

Just the statement this made was almost jarring. Kobe, coming into the game on a sprained ankle that had everyone talking about his availability and effectiveness, rose above one of the league's top shot blockers and stuffed it. The message was sent early in Game 5 -- this series was not coming back to Staples.

Best Play Runner-Up: Chris Paul twists Bynum up

CP3 is just a wizard with the ball in his hands. Like, seriously, I think he has powers in those hands that aren't natural to this world. The way he subtlety brought his off-hand up to mimic a shot was brilliant. Only CP3. 

Biggest Disappointment: Pau Gasol

Matched against an inferior front line, Gasol was entirely absent in Games 1 and 2. Really, there was no excuse. In Game 1, it actually looked as if Gasol didn't realize he was playing. He was going through motions, just timidly jogging up and down the floor. He fumbled a big pass from Kobe in crunch time out of bounds and actually had people comparing him to Kwame Brown for a minute. He straightened himself out with three solid games to close, but he can do better. And he'll have to if the Lakers want a third straight title.

Best Moment: "I'd hit my mama..."

Kobe and Chris Paul are widely known as good friends off the court. But CP3 sent a little message in Game 4 with a hard foul on Kobe. The two bumped a bit after the play and had words. After the game, Cheryl Miller asked Paul about it and he delivered an excellent line. "I'd hit my mama too if she was out on the court."

Worst Moment: The absence of David West

Hard not to think about what this series might've looked like with David West on the floor for these six games. Not just having a better body inside to take on the Lakers' frontline, but giving Paul his scoring buddy to rely on in the pick-and-roll would've been huge. I'm not going to say this series would've been different in terms of the final result, but at least the Hornets would've had a better chance.

Best Performance: CP3's Game 4

Goodness. 27-15-13. Or 23-7-6 in the second half. Paul was on another planet that night. He was fantastic in Game 1, good in Game 2, great in Games 3, 5 and 6. But that Game 4 was one for the ages. A tremendous, terrific, wonderful effort that illustrated just how amazing Chris Paul is.

Best Game: Game 1

There wasn't exactly a classic in this series, meaning any game that came down to a final possession or a big shot. But Game 1 in Los Angeles definitely had the biggest moments and swings. CP3 was great, Kobe was drilling big shots, and the Hornets were stunning everyone. It was one of the most enjoyable games of what was one of the most amazing opening weekends of the playoffs we've seen in a while.
Posted on: April 28, 2011 9:40 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 9:45 am

Playoff Fix: Hornets-Lakers Game 6

The Los Angeles Lakers can advance to the second round with a Game 6 win over the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.

One Big Thing: After a lackadaisical and lost Game 1 effort that allowed 109 New Orleans points, the Los Angeles Lakers have locked in on defense, holding the Hornets to an average of 85.5 points in Games 2 through 5. Playoff basketball always starts on the defensive end, and the Lakers have proven that in this series, doing their best to win the battle on the glass and contain a plucky, overachieving and fearless Hornets team to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 5, the Lakers were able to force 19 Hornets turnovers, a number that isn't sustainable for New Orleans if it hopes to stave off elimination at home in Thursday night's Game 6. 

The X-Factor: In a series with such a disparity in talent, length and bulk in the frontcourt, it's been a bit surprising to see how closely tied L.A.'s success has been to Kobe Bryant's performance. In Game 5, Bryant changed the complexion of the game with two monstrous dunks. His teammates obviously fed off of the spark, playing more loosely and with that Laker swag/confidence that has been absent for much of this series. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures and shot 50% or better, reaching a level of balance that is simply overwhelming for New Orleans, who can match Bryant with Chis Paul but have no answer for the Lakers 2-8. The overlooked aspect of Game 5? Bryant scored just 19 points and played only 29 minutes. He's got plenty left in the tank for Game 6, despite the tweaked ankle.

The Adjustment: It's been an ongoing process, but the Lakers have begun to lean more heavily on their interior tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum offensively. Their combined point totals in Games 1 through 5: 21, 23, 31, 27, 34. Game 5 was really the model they'll look to reproduce in Game 6, as the 34 combined points came on just 23 attempts and included 12 combined trips to the foul line. Getting to the stripe on the road is generally a difficult proposition, but the Lakers were able to bully their way to 24 free throw attempts in Game 3 and 30 in Game 4. They shot 30 free throws again in Game 5 and will look to continue the parade in Game 6. New Orleans has three possible hopes here: L.A. reverts to ignoring its bigs in the halfcourt offense, Gasol shrinks back to his Invisible Man form from game 1, or Bynum gets in early foul trouble himself.

The Sticking Point: The Lakers' intensity level has been up and down this series, and they'll be walking into a cauldron in Game 6. Hornets fans, uncertain of their team's future, have been out in full force throughout the series, and Paul has ranged from amazing to spectacular through the first five games. One of the league's great competitors, Paul has already delivered the "this is all or nothing" quote in advance of Thursday night's game and has made his appeal to the home fans. The Hornets haven't looked afraid of the defending champions once during this series and Paul and company won't go down without a fight. 
Posted on: April 25, 2011 2:16 am

NBA Playoffs: The insatiable, unstoppable CP3

CP3 again. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Among the pack of top free agents in the NBA who love to hang with each other, who have shared toasts and fireworks and locker space, Chris Paul stands apart. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, the list goes on. Those players are friendly. They came into the league at the same time, have the same priorities, the same approach. But Paul, as friendly as he is with those players, is different in one simple regard. 

He wants to win more. 

This isn't to say that the others don't want to win. These are competitors on the highest level. But there is a gap. The only player that rivals Paul is Wade, the only player among them with a championship ring, a testament to that will. But even Wade has his businesses, the commercials, the distractions with the Heat, the culture of branding that he operates in. Again, this isn't an indictment. Wade has proven time and time again, just as James and the rest (no matter what popular sentiment has determined) that he will deliver in the key moments, spend the extra time, fight through the injuries, do what it takes to get a win. 

But Paul? 

Paul wants it just a little bit more. 

It's in his DNA. He's arguably the only player in the league with the competitiveness level of Kobe Bryant. So to see him slashing, dashing, and breaking Bryant's ankles has a certain level of appropriateness to it, even if the Lakers remain a significant favorite to win this series. Paul's history of intensity dates back to college, and the physical lengths he would go to in order to win a game. In the NBA, he's been, when healthy, the consensus best point guard in the league (bearing in mind that Derrick Rose is about as far from a pure point as it gets. Rose is his own thing, Bulls fans, let's not make everything about Rose, as awesome as he is.).  He's also struggled through years with subpar casts, but this year, with the team's future in New Orleans in doubt, he's maintained. 

There were questions this season, to be sure. Paul told Ken Berger that he was looking at longevity this season, that that was weighing on his mind. It led us to discuss the possibility Paul was holding back for the playoffs. 

Yeah, about that. 

On Sunday night, Paul dropped a triple-double, his second in four games of this series. Paul joins Magic Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Mookie Blaylock, Rajon Rondo, Jason Kidd, and Baron Davis in the list of players to drop multiple triple-doubles in one series. Paul's second half line? 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists. Are you kidding me? You have to be kidding me. This cannot be real life. This is not reality. This is some mistifying fantasy where a player comes out and does that to the defending champs. It was brilliant. It was exceptional. 

It was a perfect example of the lengths Paul will go to in order to win. Trevor Ariza noted after the game that he had six rebounds. The Hornets' big man, Emeka Okafor had 6 rebounds. Chris Paul had 13 rebounds, against the tallest and longest frontcourt in the National Basketball Association in a pivotal playoff game where he was also scoring and running the offense. Oh, and he had two steals. There was nothing more you could ask for from Paul. How often do you really get to say that about a player? That you cand identify what he gave as absolutely everything. Put it another way, which isn't really fair, I'll admit off the bat. How often have you really, truly said that about what you felt LeBron James' maximum effort could be. 

The Lakers certainly played their part in this. But the effort from Kobe Bryant in Game 3 to slow Paul was unable to overcome CP3 in Game 4. To be fair, a seven nation army couldn't hold Paul back in Game 4. The range-game, the whip-pass, the drive and drop, the floater, it was the entire range. Chris Paul doesn't wind up with exceptional games in February, he saves his best for when his team needs it most. Down 2-1 in front of a desperate crowd on the verge of losing the Hornets as a part of their community, Paul answered.  We talk a lot about great players, about what makes a player the kind you remember five, ten, fifteen years after their days are over. CP3's performance Sunday night? It fit that description perfectly. 

The Hornets have tied the series with the champs, with Aaron Gray and Carl Landry as key contributors. Paul has shown once again why he is without question the best pure point in the league. The Lakers may very well advance in the playoffs from this series. But if they do so, they'll have to fight Chris Paul to the very last second to get that fourth win. And even then they'll know what we all know, what we've seen. 

Chris Paul just wants it a little bit more. 
Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:48 pm
Edited on: April 24, 2011 3:05 pm

Series Reset: How much do the Lakers care?

We reset the Hornets-Lakers series with Game 4 set to tip Sunday night. Posted by Ben Golliver. 

The Narrative: 

We've learned a few things through the first three games of this series. First, Los Angeles has a clear, readily-exploitable size advantage over New Orleans, a gap so significant that the Hornets have no available adjustments. They just have to hope that Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum (preferably both) decide not to dominate. Second, the Hornets need a monster night from Chris Paul to create an environment for their role players to succeed. If Paul isn't going off, the other Hornets wings haven't proven capable of generating their own offense on a consistent basis. Third, we've learned that Los Angeles approaches these games with varying degrees of intensity. 

In Game 1, the Lakers were surprised by an all-round gem from Paul and were too stunned to recover. In Games 2 and 3, they committed more energy and thought on the defensive end, and New Orleans looked like it was drowning. Game 4, then, comes down to how focused the Lakers decide to be. They've regained home court advantage in the series, and could easily treat this as a coast game. New Orleans, on the other hand, clearly sees this as a must-win. Will that gap in motivation be enough to overcome L.A.'s talent gap? Or will the Lakers handle this one professionally so they can close this thing down in Game 5 at Staples Center? 

The Hook: 

Chris Paul has been lauded for years for his competitiveness, and rightfully so. After going for 33 points and 14 assists in Game 1, he's been limited to 20 and nine in Game 2, then 22 and eight in Game 3. Those numbers are still solid but, unfortunately, insufficient. As a team, the Hornets scored just 78 points in Game 2 and 86 points in Game 3. Paul's output (scoring plus assists) represents roughly half of their offense in both contests. New Orleans simply needs more from him. Game 4 will be a referendum on Paul's ability as a one-man show. Yes, he'll get some help from Carl Landry, who has steadily produced 17.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in this series. Landry only has the potential to hold his match-up even, though. Paul has the ability and raw to make match-ups irrelevant. He'll need to be gigantic if New Orleans wants to have a chance to play another home game in this series. 

The Adjustment: 

"Shoot the ball better" might not qualify as an adjustment, but it's a change that's necessary for the Hornets, who hit just two of their 13 shots from outside in Game 3. When you're as badly outmatched in the interior as the Hornets are, the best remedy is to space the floor well, put your shooters in their high-efficiency areas and move the ball quickly to find open shots. Then, of course, knock them down. If New Orleans can get hot from outside, the Lakers will likely turn to a slightly smaller lineup to compensate and that could make life a little easier on the glass for the Hornets. But if those shots aren't falling? Same old story. 

The X-Factor: 

Before Game 3 we tried to pin New Orleans' hope on either Willie Green or Jarrett Jack, but the combination promptly went out and combined to shoot 1-10 and score just two points in the loss. Rather than repeat that mistake, let's just say that ANY Hornets player under 6'7" not named Chris Paul needs to score in volume in Game 4. Whether that's Marco Belinelli making up for his 1-7 shooting from outside, Trevor Ariza shocking everyone with some nice scoring output or Green and/or Jack finally deciding to show up, the Hornets need a third weapon to complement Paul and Landry. And, to offset Kobe Bryant, who outscored Paul, Belinelli, Green and Jack combined in Game 3. 

The Sticking Point: 

Even if New Orleans does everything right -- competes on the boards, knocks down their outside shots, gets a huge night from Paul -- there's still the Kobe Bryant factor to contend with. Bryant hit for 30 in Game 3, including some back-breaking three-pointers that kept New Orleans at bay. His individual performance forces the Hornets to commit so much defensive attention to him that life for Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher is just that much easier. All three of those guys shot 50% or better from the field in Game 3 and should have plenty of clean looks in Game 4 as well. It's a pick-your-poison type of situation for the Hornets, who we know won't go down without a fight. 

Still, this one is far less about their effort level and far more about L.A.'s. If the Lakers show up, this series will be entering its final chapter. 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 12:42 am
Edited on: April 23, 2011 12:58 am

NBA Playoffs: Lakers restore order over Hornets

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night to take a 2-1 series lead and regain home court advantage. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Hornets, 100-86, in a Friday night game that played out exactly like pre-series expectations dictated. On offense and defense, both teams played according to form ... bad news for the plucky Hornets who must play way over their heads to keep up with the Lakers. 

Lakers Offense

In Friday's Series Reset, we made the fairly obvious prediction that Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant would make a major return to form after an off-night in Game 2. It happened. Bryant scored 30 points on 10-20 shooting, soloing a bit too much, but still hitting a wide variety of circus shots and more than half of his three-point attempts. Trevor Ariza put up a game fight, but Bryant got where he needed to get, including the free throw line, where he hit a number of second half shots that helped stave off any late Hornets push.

Pau Gasol got off to a bit of a slow start but he fought through the war of attrition, tallying 17 points and 10 rebounds and surprising everyone in the building by knocking down a corner three. The force of his fist pump afterwards revealed the level of frustration he'd been feeling throughout the series to this point. More than anything, Gasol just out-worked his struggles. He hit the glass hard, especially on the offensive end, and played a nice two-man game with Andrew Bynum, who was also a force with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Hornets Offense

There's nothing here for them to hang their heads about, but the non-existent bench did them in once again. In the reset, we talked about the importance of either Willie Green or Jarrett Jack stepping up. The pair combined for two points on 1-10 shooting. The Hornets' starters simply can't play five-on-eight against the deeper Lakers.

Meanwhile, Chris Paul was very good, but not otherworldly. And, in this series, very good simply won't cut it. His 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds made life easier for everyone around him, but all five Hornets starters finished at -10 or less for the game while all five Lakers starters finished +11 or greater. That's a fairly straightforward butt-kicking, and it was one that Paul, who was paid plenty of attention again, was hopeless to overcome.

Lakers Defense

L.A. did a nice job of containing Paul again, but more than anything they simply played a fundamentally sound strategic game. They didn't allow the Hornets out in transition for easy baskets. They did a decide job of clearing the defensive glass. 

And, most importantly, they took their chances with the Hornets' role players beating them from outside. The Hornets are merely an average three-point shooting team, and the 1-7 from deep by Marco Belinelli killed New Orleans' offensive efficiency. No one else really tried to bomb from deep. 

Hornets Defense

As in Game 2, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry tried to stand up to the Lakers' bigs, but with little effect. The Okafor/Landry pair actually outscored Bynum/Gasol, 38-31, boosted in part by Landry's 11-12 from the free throw line. The numbers are a bit deceptive, though, as Lamar Odom chipped in 13 points and the Lakers' bigs combined to shoot 17-32 despite Gasol's early struggles. 

Bynum was a wrecking ball early, scoring around the rim at will and tossing in a beauty of a lefty jump hook. He had 12 points in the first 18 minutes, and that was pretty much that. 

L.A.'s length and depth, along with Bryant's attack, made the difference on Friday night. In other words, the Lakers firmly restored order after slipping up in Game 1.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 6:21 pm

Series Reset: Can the Lakers regain home court?

We reset the Hornets-Lakers series with Game 3 set to tip Friday night. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The Narrative:

The Los Angeles Lakers showed up on Wednesday, evening their first round playoff series with the upstart, over-achieving New Orleans Hornets at one game apiece. The way Game 2 unfolded is how most thought this series would play out, with the Lakers pounding the ball to center Andrew Bynum and the Hornets helpless to stop him. Contributions from Ron Artest and Lamar Odom made up for off nights from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, which goes to show the gap in talent between the two sides. L.A.'s top two players can have off nights -- a combined 5-20 shooting and 19 points -- yet the Lakers can still roll fairly easily. On the flip side, if Chris Paul isn't excellent, the Hornets don't have a chance. 

Despite that talent gap, the Hornets stole homecourt advantage in Game 1 and now it's incumbent upon them to protect it as the series shifts to New Orleans for Games 3 and 4.

The Hook:

Game 3 has all the makings for a frustrated and vengeful Kobe Bryant -- bent on making amends for his Game 2 performance -- looking to set the tone early. The Lakers used Bryant and a host of other defenders against Paul in Game 2. The extra attention limited Paul to 20 points and nine assists, numbers that Lakers coach would be thrilled to see again in Game 3.

Aside from Bryant's impact on both ends, look for some force-feeding to Gasol as well. The Lakers can't afford to continue to get marginal production from their talented big man. The undersized, but strong, Carl Landry has played him well and scored on the other end; It's time for Gasol to take back ownership of that match-up.

The Adjustment:

Andrew Bynum fouled out in Game 2, but not before playing 32 minutes, shooting 8-11, putting up a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double. In the process, he looked like the NBA's second best center. The big adjustment here is whether the officials will treat him differently on the road. How often do we see aggressive big men hampered by early whistles in road playoff games? How often do we see them respond with frustration rather than precision? Keeping Bynum on the floor and actively engaged will be crucial for L.A. to take back the home court.

The X-Factor:

After being held to under 80 points in Game 2, it's incumbent upon New Orleans' role players to provide an additional scoring punch. One guy to watch is guard Willie Green, who took just six shots in 12 minutes and wasn't much of a factor. If not Green, then Jarrett Jack, who was big in Game 1. Unfortunately for New Orleans, both Green and Jack had better scoring numbers on the road than at home this season, and neither got loose in any of the Hornets' four regular season losses to the Lakers. That could be a problem.

The Sticking Point:

The Achilles heel for New Orleans in Game 2 was their defensive rebounding, as the Lakers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and won the battle of the boards overall, 44-36. There's really no easy solution other than five-man effort on the glass, given the personnel available to them. L.A. brought the effort on the offensive glass in Game 2, something they don't always do consistently. Both Games 1 and 2 were played at New Orleans' preferred slow pace, but second-chance opportunities and extended possessions ruin that comfort zone in a heartbeat. If I'm Hornets coach Monty Williams, I'm drilling the "keep our boards clean" point home during the pre-game talk.
Posted on: April 17, 2011 7:42 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: The return of CP3

Chris Paul returns to prominence in an incredible performance against the Lakers in Game 1. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Derrick Rose. Rajon Rondo. Russell Westbrook. Great point guards all. But after a season where he looked indecisive at times, inconsistent and passive, Chris Paul stepped onto the biggest stage and showed everyone why he's considered the best "pure" point guard in the game. 

(Before we get started, Derrick Rose is the presumptive MVP of the league. Bulls fans, let's not start a fight about who's better. They're both great. Let's leave it at that.)

After the Hornets' win over the Lakers, here were some of the trending topics on Twitter: "#cp3" was No.1, and "#chrispaul" was No.3. The world took notice. It was easy to see why. Paul blistered the Lakers the entire game, drowning Derek Fisher in ISO and pick and roll situations. Late in the game, to show the amount of confusion on the Lakers' side, Pau Gasol was put on an island against one of the quickest players in the NBA. Paul calmly crossed him over and nailed a dagger fadeaway jumper. 

The praise was unanimous for CP3, and it really put him back on the map. For most of the season, Paul played extremely well at times, and extremely passive at times. He would let others take the lead. But without David West, Paul became the intiator, and took the team on his back. That's the Hornets' best option of attack in a series where they are woefully overmatched in size and ability. But as long as the Lakers continue to attempt to guard Paul with Fisher and be lazy on their help, Paul will have opportunities. 

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com