The Hornets beat the Lakers

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Published: January 7, 2009

I’ll try real hard not to get carried away with this win, but I must admit that it’s gotten me pretty pumped. Sure, regular season results are a poor indication of how things will shake out in the playoffs, and I’m well aware that any team can beat any team on any given night in the NBA. And yeah, the Lakers were already without the laser twins and they lost Lamar Odom to a knee injury in the second quarter.

But still… this win was big.

It was big because we’d gotten beat bad by the Lakers twice this season on our home floor. It was big because David West played like a damn demi-god, finally getting his game going against a defense that has given him fits in the past. It was big because Peja Stojakovic missed a bunch of wide open looks, shot just 2-9 from the field and we still won by double digits. It was big because Kobe Bryant went on a scoring rampage in the third quarter and our guys refused to flinch.

So, in short, this win was big because we did a lot of things we don’t usually do. Maybe that’s an aberration, or maybe these Hornets are once again beginning to show that they deserve mention among the NBA’s elite.

Bullets…

  • In the end, we won with defense. Both teams were on an insane scoring pace throughout the first three quarters, with 26 first-quarter points for the Lakers being the lowest 12-minute output for either side. But then the fourth quarter rolled around and the Hornets put the clamps on L.A., allowing them just 13 points in the period, and finishing it out with a 22-6 run over the final 8:10.
  • To be fair to the Lakers, they did miss plenty of open looks down the stretch, and the Hornets were on the sunny side of a bunch of calls and no-calls in the final frame. But then, the Lakers were shooting an insane clip from deep through the first three quarters, and it was somewhat appropriate that their love affair with the long ball would burn them in the end. They were 16-34 from deep when it was all said and done, missing 10 of their final 12. Oh, and regarding the officiating, I make it a point not to talk about the refs regardless of whose side they appeared to be on. It’s always a poor excuse.

  • Now about that David West. 40 points on 14-23 shooting, 12-13 from the free throw line, 11 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 turnovers in 42 minutes of work. This was his best game of the season. He tortured Pau Gasol inside and outside. He was raining J’s whenever he was given an inch of space, but also picked his spots to drive really well. For as much as he put the ball on the floor tonight, it’s remarkable that he turned it over just twice. He was patient with the ball out high and made strong moves to the basket whenever the lane opened up. He did a great job of beating the help defense, several times getting his dribble up and swinging the ball past the second defender on his way to the rack. That’s where he most often turns the ball over, but not tonight. Oh, and while I didn’t particularly notice West defensively in this one, it’s surely no accident that the Laker bigs all had a pretty quiet night offensively.
  • You know West was killing it out there when his performance outshone another masterful outing by CP. The world’s greatest point guard lit up the Lakers for 32 points (11-24 FGs), 15 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 0 turnovers. Paul did most of his scoring in the first half, when he dropped 26 points on 8-12 FGs. He hit several tough floaters and layups over the Laker bigs and knocked down the jumpers when the D loosened up out high. The Lakers just had no answer for him on the pick and roll, and it was great to see him taking over the game in the first half for once. The previous two times we played the Lakers, they ripped us open in the second quarter, and it seems CP was determined not to let that happen again.
  • Two big factors in the game: free throws and rebounding. We did a great job getting to the line, and knocked down 33 of our 37 free throws. Even Tyson Chandler, who was hitting just 53.2% of his freebies this season, managed to can all six of his attempts. As for the rebounding, we set the tone early on the glass, leaping out to a 14-6 advantage in the first quarter. We finished with a 44-39 edge, with Posey, Peja, Butler and Tyson all grabbing at least 6 each. Excellent team effort.
  • Speaking of Tyson, he was impressive in his return from suspension. He was limited to 31 minutes due to foul trouble, but finished his night’s work with 12 points and 8 boards. His minutes were mostly limited in the first half as he picked up all 3 of his fouls before the break, but that was when he did most of his damage. His solid picks were responsible for shaking CP loose for all those early buckets, and Tyson managed a nifty finish at the rim himself more than once. Good to have him back.
  • A lot of our bench guys saw limited minutes. Byron ended up playing CP for 44 minutes, West for 42 and Butler for 37, so there wasn’t a lot left for the usual reserves. Guys like Antonio Daniels and Hilton Armstrong did deliver nice contributions though, mostly in the second quarter. Devin Brown (surprisingly) also gave us good minutes. As mentioned, the second period is when the Lakers usually bury us, but they were only +3 tonight when CP was out of the ballgame. That was key.
  • Actually, I should talk more about Hilton. He was aggressive again tonight, taking the ball right at the Laker defense a couple of times and getting to the foul line. He also teamed up with Devin Brown on two consecutive defenses in the second quarter to trap Kobe Bryant, forcing a turnover both times. And then there was the kid’s offensive rebound with about 5:00 left in that second period, after which he went right back into the lane with a power dribble and tossed home a lefty hook over Lamar Odom. All in all, Armstrong has been playing really well on this road trip.
  • Kobe finished with 39 points on 14-22 shooting. He was unstoppable in the third quarter, when he dropped 20 points on 8-9 FGs, including three triples in less than 100 seconds during one stretch. Rasual Butler was guarding Kobe for most of that onslaught, and I really don’t think anyone else could have done a better job. Kobe was just in the zone. He wasn’t getting any open looks, every shot was challenged pretty good, but he just kept throwing it in the onion bag. Apparently though, Kobe going off like that tends to hurt the Lakers more than it helps; as Gil McGregor noted before the game, Kobe averages more shots and more points in Laker losses.
  • Offensively, Rasual continued to struggle. 3-8 from the field isn’t terrible, but those were the first field goals he’s made on this road trip. He was 0-5 in the previous two games combined. I noticed a couple of times tonight that he’d catch the ball on the wing with distance between him and his defender, but he wouldn’t even look at the rim. Hopefully he’s not sinking back into a black hole of no confidence.
  • Next highest Laker scorer was Derek Fisher, who got most of his points from beyond the arc. He was one of the main guys going cold for L.A. down the stretch though, and he’d finish just 6-18 from the field. Beyond that, the Lakers got 12 points out of Odom before he left the game, and Pau chipped in 10.
  • Some quick notes from the CST broadcast: 1) Byron Scott has the 3rd best playoff winning percentage of active NBA coaches; at 62.5%, he trails only Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. 2) Chris Paul is a big fan of that Ellen Pompeo chick from Grey’s Anatomy (never seen it) and was apparently starstruck when he met her before the game. 3) Dyan Cannon was married to Cary Grant.
  • Anyone catch Chris Paul’s nasty crossover on the break near the end of the third quarter? I think it was Ariza that he abused, but then he blew the layup.
  • Sasha Vujacic is a nice player. He didn’t play great against the Hornets tonight but I’ve seen enough of him to know I’d love him on my team. Having said that, dude reacts even worse than David West when he gets called for a foul. He seriously looks like he’s about to cry, as if the referee’s whistle signifies bankruptcy and deportation for himself and his three-legged dog.
  • Oh, and just in case any Laker fans want to get hung up on the fact that Walton, Farmar and Odom were injured tonight, just remember that the Hornets didn’t have Antonio Daniels for either of the previous two meetings, and Peja missed the game in December. I’ll be the first to admit the Hornets are not on the Lakers’ level, but at least give our guys credit for a hard-fought victory tonight.

Alright, time to move on to Utah. Should be a tough game tomorrow since West and Paul played big minutes tonight. This Laker game was intense throughout and I’m sure we’ll see the resulting fatigue in Salt Lake. Hopefully we’ll have enough left in the tank to get the W. 3-1 on this road trip would be hardcore.

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