The Los Angeles Lakers realize the task that is before them. While some people think the team’s solemn responses to post-game questions (following the loss to the Clippers) were a sign of being deflated or lacking heart, I would actually chalk that up to resolution and understanding of the circumstances. Five games remaining, tied in the loss column with the Jazz (41-37), and without the benefit of the head-to-head tie breaker as a result of the 1-2 record (this season) vs. Utah. Lakers Nation, it goes without saying, every game is crucial from here on out. While the Jazz have two playoff teams, OKC and Memphis (sandwiching a home-and-home with Minnesota), left on their schedule, the Lakers have five tough games/opponents remaining.
Given the way the season has gone, I shouldn’t have to explain why no opponent can be taken lightly. Much like I detailed in the game preview prior to the last time they faced these Hornets, New Orleans is a team that can create match-up issues for the Lakers. Especially, since there isn’t a team in the league that isn’t reveling at the opportunity to be the one to place the final nail in the Lakers’ proverbial “coffin.” At this point, the Lakers cannot afford to watch the scoreboard, nor count on any assistance from another team. Even though they haven’t been able to string together a five-game winning streak all year, in all likelihood, that’s what they’ll need to do in order to give themselves a shot at that final playoff spot.
As of yesterday afternoon, Metta World Peace was listed a “game-time decision” for tonight’s match-up with the visiting Hornets. After the Lakers initially announced a minimum of four to six weeks for a recovery period following his surgery just 12 days ago, this is a revelation no one could have predicted. While I would personally worry about just how strong that knee could be, if MWP is actually able to provide the defensive spark this team has been sorely lacking, it would be a fantastic addition.
Frontcourt: Anthony Davis’ 13.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 1.8 BPG aren’t likely to earn him the Rookie Of The Year award many analysts anticipated prior to the year, but I would hate for folks to take his lack of gaudy numbers means the young man isn’t every bit as skilled as he was once considered. Injuries and the “kid-glove” approach the Hornets’ organization have taken with him while limiting his playing time to 28.7 minutes per game have played a major role in that. Point is, while lacking the type of strength and muscle mass a good off-season workout regiment will undoubtedly provide, Davis still has the ability to stretch the defense with a soft touch from the mid-range, and can also be a threat with his energy and spring around the rim and in transition. Obviously, those are each areas the Lakers have struggled with throughout this injury-plagued/slowed year.
Also, as I mentioned in the previous report, Al-Farouq Aminu continues to be a threat in the open court and with energy/effort around the rim. The Lakers will need to make sure to keep center Robin Lopez (and all Hornets players) off the glass as well. Ryan Anderson is their 6th man, and has been providing 16.0 PPG and 6.4 RPG off their bench. Anderson remains one of the league’s best 3pt-shooting big men at 38.3 percent from behind the arc on 6.9 3pt attempts per game.
Backcourt: Greivis Vasquez is still a match-up concern for the Lakers. At 6’6″ and strong, but quick enough to get into the open court and cause serious issues for the a team lacking in overall team foot-speed. While knee injuries have limited some of Eric Gordon’s explosiveness, he remains the type of player that can still score in bunches.
Brian Roberts and Xavier Henry provide even more energy for the Hornets off the bench. Henry, a 3rd-year SG, has nailed 6-10 three-pointers over his last three games, and Roberts (rookie) has actually provided double-figure scoring totals in a reserve role twice over his past five games. Point is, the Lakers’ bench players will have to play with a sense of urgency, defend the 3pt line and be sure to get back in transition against one of the league’s youngest teams.
Keys To Victory:
Play Every Moment As Though It Could Be Their Last: Mainly, because it really could be. Even though many of this team’s struggles can be attributed, at least in some part, to the absolutely absurd amount of injuries, the Lakers simply cannot afford to take any opponent for granted. Every rebound, each possession, and all decisions are now magnified.
The Veterans Must Be Excellent, Not Just Good-To-Very-Good: Whether it is right, fair, or even realistic, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, MWP and Pau Gasol must play to the absolute maximum of their ability. Since, in my opinion, the minutes and rotation were not properly monitored and/or limited throughout the course of the year, there is simply no room for rest or the weary. In basketball, exhausted bodies tend to lead to “tired minds.” These Lakers cannot afford to succumb to such things, as they simply have not been left with any space for error.
New Orleans Hornets (27-50) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (40-37)
7:30 PM PST, April 9, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SN, NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Hornets Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Robin Lopez
Key Reserves: PF: Ryan Anderson, G: Xavier Henry, PF: Lou Amundson PG: Brian Roberts
VIDEO: Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets Preview