Hornets @ Lakers Game 5: Walking the Razor’s Edge (With Live Chat AND Watch Party!)

Published: April 26, 2011

And now it’s best of three as the Hornets have already scrapped their way to the most unlikely outcome so far these playoffs. Yes, more unlikely even than Memphis over the Spurs. (Though, wow, that’s pretty crazy too.) McNamara asked me last night if the Hornets pull this off if it will be the biggest upset in the history of the NBA. It’s hard to disagree with that assessment. Two-time champs being unseated by a 7th seed missing their leading scorer? Crazy.

However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because last game something happened that could turn this series: Bryant injured his foot at the end of the game. Now, I know a lot of people will see that as a bonus for the Hornets, something that could help them take this thing. I actually feel the exact opposite. If Kobe is slowed, if he is unable to play the way he wants to, if he feels he has to slow down at all, I think that will be the worst possible outcome for the Hornets.

Why? Because the Lakers’ one overwhelming advantage this series has been their big men. It’s not Kobe that’s dictating who wins and loses these games. In fact, his performance has almost no correlation to whether his team wins. When he’s played well, they’ve lost one and won one. When he’s played badly, they’ve lost one and won one. No, it’s been Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom who have dictated this series. When Bynum gets more than 10 shots in a game, they’ve won. When Odom has been aggressive and taken more than a half-dozen shots, the Lakers’ have won.

So forgive me if I’m a little worried about Kobe’s ankle. The more shots that go to his teammates, the more dangerous the Lakers are.

From the Hornets side of things, there’s always that maxim that floats around in sports “As player X goes, so goes team Y”. Personally, I’ve almost always thought it was crap for team sports, but it’s not far wrong in the case of Chris Paul. The Lakers came into this series playing much faster than the Hornets did over the course of the regular season. However, in masterful hands of the Hornets point guard, this series has been played even slower than what the Hornets preferred during the season. Paul keeps the game slow, gets the offense going, refuses to take early shots in the clock, and that helps keep the score close and to limit explosive runs that the Hornets are so susceptible to. It breaks momentum. Makes the fast break impossible. And that’s good, because no matter how deadly Paul may be in transition, the Lakers, with multiple capable ball-handlers, are even more deadly in the open court. The Hornets can’t play that game. Paul knows it, and has generally kept it from happening.

If, however, you want to have one stat to pay attention to, you should keep an eye on his assists in the first half. Paul can get shots whenever he wants, provided he is getting at least a little help from his teammates. When Paul has been nearing double figures in assists at the half, the Hornets have gone on to win, because his teammates were knocking down the open shots he’s been generating. That’s important, because at the end of the game it gives him that little bit of space, that little half-second or half-inch of worry about their own guy from help defenders that he needs to be able to score easily in the fourth.

The Hornets need their support players. It doesn’t need to be one going off big, but they need at least a few to contribute.  If that happens, things will get very interesting.

Enjoy the game!


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