LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the third quarter with teammates Ron Artest #15 and Shannon Brown #12 while taking on the New Orleans Hornets in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Why is it just never easy with the Lakers?
Last season in the first round the Lakers were supposed to crush and cruise past the young Oklahoma City Thunder. Except they turned out to be good, and that series went six games.
This season in the first round the Lakers were supposed to crush and cruise past the New Orleans Hornets. Except that they have Chris Paul and he has at times been superhuman.
Still the Lakers have the chance to do what they did last year (in every round of the Western Conference playoffs) — close out on the road. Silence the opposing team’s building and celebrate on their floor.
The Lakers know what they have to do — by Game 6 of a playoff series there are no more secrets, no more adjustments, no more surprises. You’ve seen all their pitches. You know your opponent, they know you. It’s a matter of execution.’
For the Lakers, the recipe for a win in New Orleans is simple — pound the ball inside and use your size and skill advantage up front. The Hornets have no real answer for Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. To be honest, this is the recipe for every Lakers playoff series, every regular season game and so on. But the Lakers still are more than willing to get away from it.
The good news is they seem to be gradually finding their groove here —Gasol had his best game in Game 5, matching the physicality of New Orleans. Expect a lot of Gasol and Bynum early in Thursday’s game.
The Hornets will counter with a lot of Chris Paul — in the two games the Hornets have won in this series, he simply has been superhuman. He has looked like the best point guard in the game (which he is, sorry Derrick Rose). When Paul has been merely very good – 20 points and 12 assists in Game 5, for example — the Lakers have. Look for Paul to be aggressive on the pick-and-roll and attacking early.
Kobe Bryant is still nursing a sore ankle, which means more Derek Fisher and Steve Blake on Paul. That’s not good. If Paul gets going look for Ron Artest to get a shot at him.
Don’t buy into the hype that Kobe is fine, his ankle is still sore and still an issue. Yes, Bryant’s ankle looked just fine on dunks when he was diving in a straight line to the rim, but his lateral movement was decidedly slower. Paul right now would eat him alive. Look for the Hornets to attack Kobe until he proves he can defend.
The Lakers are the better team, if they would just pay like it. As more than one scout from other teams in the West has said this season, the biggest obstacle between the Lakers and the finals this year is the Lakers. Look for them to not get in their own way tonight and close out the Big Easy in style.
If not, it’s Game 7 at home on Saturday. And one game against Chris Paul can be a scary thing.