LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 31: Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers turns from the defense of Tyson Chandler #6 of the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on March 31, 2011 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)
Chris Paul was, well, a Hornet. A pest. One that can sting you and really hurt.
The New Orleans point guard buzzed through the Lakers defense for five games and caused all sorts of problems — including two nearly superhuman performances where he lifted the Hornets up past the Lakers.
Thursday night, the Lakers shut him down (as much as anyone can). The result was a comfortable 98-80 closeout first round series win for the Lakers — the sixth time in a row they have won a playoff closeout game on an opponent's floor.
Next up: The Dallas Mavericks. Starting Monday night at Staples Center.
Dallas is no pushover — they won 57 games, same as the Lakers this season — but this is a good matchup for Los Angeles. The Lakers have won 10 of the last 13 meetings, and the last time they met (a couple weeks before the end of the season) the Lakers easily handled the Mavs.
They handle Dallas with defense, and that’s what got the Lakers past the Hornets Thursday. Mostly, it was a great game by Andrew Bynum dominating the paint blocking and altering shots, plus grabbing rebounds on misses. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Pau Gasol was doing his part as well.
By the second half, the Hornets had largely stopped trying to drive into the paint and become a team that settles for jump shots, which they are not particularly good at.
The first-round Hornets series was far from easy for the Lakers, but they may be the better for it. Los Angeles came into this series playing lazy ball at the end of the season and that carried over to a surprising Game 1 loss.
By Game 6, the Lakers had found the defensive rhythm and intensity, the level of play that had them winning 17-of-18 for a stretch after the All--Star Game. The play that had them looking like contenders.
Now they face Dallas with that better level of play. And one other secret Weapon -- Kobe Bryant traditionally tears up Dallas.