By John Carroll
The Los Angeles Lakers had chances to take control of this series and go up 3-1 on the Hornets. However the Hornets got a monster game from Chris Paul and improved their defensive effort in Game 4. They have effectively put the pressure right back on the defending champs. The Hornets defeated the Lakers 93-88 to even up this series at 2-2.
The two biggest keys in Game 4 were: the Hornets post defense versus Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and their rebounding. Sunday night was the first time they had beaten the Lakers on the glass in the series (39-32).
Chris Paul was brilliant Sunday night posting a triple double midway through the third quarter. The Lakers had no answers for Paul and he finished with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. Give credit to the Hornets supporting cast also. Trevor Ariza was aggressive early in the game, attacked the rim and scored 16 first half points. Aaron Gray chipped in with 7 points and but his biggest contribution came on the defensive end of the floor where he used his size to force Gasol and Bynum off the block. Jarret Jack who has struggled since Game 1 scored the last 5 Hornet points including a clutch mid range jumper to put the Hornets up 4 with nine seconds left.
Game 5 Adjustments
If the Los Angeles Lakers want to beat the New Orleans Hornets they must find a way to slow down Chris Paul. In Game 4 Monty Williams went back to putting Chris Paul in at ton of middle pick and rolls. The Lakers pick and roll defense was poor and allowed Chris Paul way too many good looks at the rim. Paul got into a comfortable offensive rhythm and it led to his 7-14 shooting performance. In Game 5 the Lakers must correct their pick and roll schemes. They cannot keep switching on this play. If they do not change their defensive scheme Paul is going to continue to torch the Lakers big men when they switch out to him on the permeter. When the Hornets see the switch, they just space the court and allow Paul to go to work. The Lakers can not allow Andrew Bynum or any other big to be matched up on Chris Paul after a switch. When this happens the Laker bigs must sag off of Paul to protect the drive and he just knocks down jumper after jumper.
Expect the Lakers to sell out to Chris Paul, similar to how the Indiana Pacers have had to do with Derrick Rose. Their whole mindset in Game 5 should be to get the ball out of Paul’s hands. They should trap or hard hedge all pick and rolls. If Paul gets hot do not surprised to see the Lakers run a second defender at Paul and force him to get rid of the ball. The Lakers must not let Chris Paul beat them, they must make the complimentary players on the Hornets make plays and make shots.
Knowing that the Lakers must attempt to bother Paul and make him work for every point, Monty Williams must find a way to take some of the pressure off of Chris Paul’s shoulders. One way to beat the Lakers half court defense would be to push the tempo and get some easy baskets. Getting out on the break would negate the Lakers size advantage and help get other Hornets players jump started on the offensive end. The Hornets must improve on their 7 fast break points they scored in Game 4. By pushing the tempo Paul would be able to utilize his tremendous skill in the open floor and it would create some scoring opportunities for Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Willie Green and Jarret Jack.
For the Hornets to be able to get out and run in Game 5 they must have strong performances on the glass from Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, and Aaron Gray. They must stop Bynum and Gasol from posting deep in the paint and then limit Lakers second shot opportunities. The Hornets big men were extremely physical with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and they must continue that strategy the next game. The Lakers were only 4-18 from behind the 3 point line in Game 4. If the Lakers continue to shoot poorly from behind the arc as this series progresses you might see more help, digs and even double teams on Gasol and Bynum.
Early on in game 4 the Lakers were getting the ball inside and their offense looked to be clicking. On there first 7 field goals they were assisted on 5 of them. From that point on the Lakers struggled to find an offensive rhythm, players were standing on the perimeter and the ball movement was non-existent. The Lakers must not go away from who they are and why they win. They win because of Kobe Bryant ability to break out of the triangle offense and score with his 1-1 abilities and because of their size, length and strength in the post. Gasol and Bynum need to take advantage of their mismatches. The Lakers need to go to them early and often in Game 5. The Lakers are most effective when getting the ball inside. In Game 5 with a banged up Kobe Bryant they need to establish their low post game early and make it a big emphasis the rest of this series.
The Ron Artest matchup with Marco Belinelli is one that the Lakers should attack in Game 5. They have had good success with that matchup earlier in this series. Artest finished with 16 points going 7-10 from the field in Game 4. Artest has a big time strength and athleticism advantage over Bellinelli and he hurts the Hornets with his physical play in the paint and around the rim. Look for the Lakers to post Artest and let him go to work early in Game 5.
Lastly the Lakers need Lamar Odom to step up in Game 5. When ever the Lakers bigs have struggled he has stepped up his game. When Kobe has been hurt, Odom has stepped up his game. The Lakers drastically need Odom to produce. He came into Game 4 averaging 13 points per game and finished with only 6 points. He is vital to the Lakers success and if Kobe is injured and not playing at 100% Odom needs to put his stamp on Game 5.
Prediction: Lakers win game 5