By John Carroll
The L.A. Lakers won Game 2, but they have not been able to rid themselves of the inconsistency that permeated their team throughout the regular season. No one knows what to expect every time they step on the court . In their 87-78 Game 2 win at the Staples Center Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined for 19 points on 5-20 shooting from the field. Hard to believe that the two best players for the Lakers could shoot like that and the Lakers could even win the game. But that’s par for the course with this team. Luckily for Lakers fans Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest stepped up their games offensively. In addition the Lakers changed their defensive philosophy putting Kobe Bryant on Chris Paul and they held the Hornets to only 78 points on 39.1% shooting from the field.
The Lakers should be very wary of the New Orleans Hornets. They have allowed a team playing without their second best player, David West, to not only steal a game at Staples Center, but they have allowed the Hornets to feel very good about their chances to win this series. The Hornets feel that they battled the Lakers in Game 2, held them to only 87 points, and kept their two best offensive players in check. The Hornets know that if they play the same way defensively and play with more poise offensively they can win Game 3.
Game 3 Adjustments
After their 109-100 loss in Game 1 the Lakers decided to change up their defensive plan. They decided that they had to do something about Chris Paul scoring 33 points and dishing out 14 assists. Derek Fisher had all kinds of similar problems last year in the playoffs with Russell Westbrook. So Phil Jackson made the switch and put Kobe Bryant on Chris Paul. Kobe had his own set of problems with the smaller, quicker Paul but when Paul gave up the ball he attempted to not let him get it back and he was able to cause some late clock dilemmas for the Hornets. The Lakers as a team shrunk the court and gave Kobe tremendous help allowing him to make Paul less effective in Game 2. When Kobe was not in the game Steve Blake got the assignment because of his quickness and gritty demeanor. Look for Phil Jackson to continue this strategy in Game 3 in New Orleans. Did it stop Chris Paul? No, but it did limit his effectiveness.
In addition to the switch in defensive assignments the Lakers overall team defense and their improved their ability to guard pick and rolls was key in them defeating the Hornets. The Hornets ran almost 70 pick and rolls versus the Lakers in Game1 and the Lakers defended over half of them poorly or incorrectly. They drastically improved their pick and roll defense in Game 2. They must get the same defensive efforts from Gasol and Bynum in Game 3. The two Laker big men must be aggressive and active helping Bryant and Blake on all Chris Paul pick and rolls to stop his ability to get into the teeth of the defense.
If the Lakers are to win Game 3 they are going to need much more out of Pau Gasol. No one is worried about Kobe Bryant only scoring 11 points in Game 2. He can put up big numbers anytime he wants. In addition he proved to be a facilitator in Game 2 while he also was assigned to defend Chris Paul. Guarding Paul is a full time job and is going to take away to some extent your offensive game. Gasol on the other hand has no excuses. He has been non-existent in Games 1 and 2. He has been tissue paper soft, going 4-19 so far in this series. He is too talented not to put his imprint on this series. The Lakers will get him the ball early in Game 3 just like they did in Game 2. He must be aggressive offensively looking for his shot and not allow himself to be bullied by the Hornet big men.
One of the biggest keys in this series so far has been the play of the bench. The team that wins this aspect of the game has won the first two games. The Lakers bench was embarrassed by the Hornet bench in Game 1, being outscored by 18 points (39-21). They reversed that trend on Wednesday night. The Laker bench combined for 27 points, led by Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom who scored 16 points. On the other hand the Hornets only scored 13 points off the bench in Game 2. Jarrett Jack and Aaron Gray who combined for 27 points in Game 1 were held to only 8 points. Game 3’s outcome may come down to which bench gives their team the most production.
The Hornets must clean up their offense and make some improvements in order to win Game 3. They did not display the poise necessary to win Game 2. With all of their problems ... low shooting percentage, missed free throws and turnovers they were only down by 5 points with 4:54 left in the 3rd quarter. The first thing they must do in Game 3 is take care of the ball. The Hornets only turned it over in Game 1 three times. They turned it over 10 times in the first half of Game 3. They allowed the defensive pressure and intensity of the Lakers to bother them. They cannot settle offensively which is what they did a lot throughout Game 2. The are a gritty defensive team that needs to attack, slash, and get to the rim. That is who they are. They must take care of the ball, be in attack mode the entire game and make their free throws when they get to the line. The Hornets cannot beat the Lakers if they waste opportunities at the free throw line, like shooting 20-32 from the charity stripe in Game 2.
Prediction: Hornets win Game 3