Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Six

NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul goes cold, Lakers go on better for effort


For five games, Chris Paul was playing like the best point guard in the game. He had played two super-human games to earn New Orleans two wins against the defending champions, and even in the losses he had been special.

The Hornets needed him to do that. He was their only hope.

And when he crashed back to earth in Game 6 — in part due to good Lakers defense, in part he had an off night and in part because he was passive — the Hornets were totally outmatched. Especially on a night where the Lakers big center Andrew Bynum asserted himself.

The result was the Lakers cruising to a 98-80 win. With the victory the Lakers advance to the second round, where they will face the winner of the Portland/Dallas series.

This series was not easy for the Lakers, but they may be the better for it in the end. They came into this series playing lazy from the end of the season and carried it over to Game 1. By Game 6 the Lakers had found the defensive groove that had them winning 17-of-18 for a stretch in March and looking like contenders.

Paul finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, plus he dished out 11 assists. But when faced with another night of good interior defense from the Lakers he became passive. That has been the knock on him in recent years, in part that was caused by injuries. But there seemed to be a frustration to, a realization that for all he could do — as much as he looked and played like the vintage Chris Paul in this series — his team was overmatched.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds — 8 of them on offense. More importantly he and Pau Gasol (each with two blocks) took control of the paint, cutting of drives and turning the Hornets into jump shooters.

The Hornets two easily settled for those jumpers rather than driving into the lane, they aren’t that good at hitting those midrange shots and as a result in the second and third quarter the Lakers started to pull away.

This was by no means a pretty game. The first quarter was filled with ugly offense. Good defense was part of it, but there was just some bad offense too. No motion, missed shots. The Lakers adjusted some but even at the half the score was 40-34 Lakers.

The Lakers move on, but like we said they exit this series better than they came into it. CP3’s play and the heart of the Hornets, their hard effort, forced the Lakers to play closer to their potential. The problem for New Orleans really was that once the Lakers woke up they were going to be out matched.

For the Hornets, seemingly countless questions lie ahead.

Starting with, who will own the team? Can the NBA — which has boosted local sponsorship and increased season tickets while working to get a better lease deal — find local ownership? New Orleans has not been an easy NBA market in the best of times.

Then there is the Chris Paul question. He can leave in the summer of 2012, next season he could put the Hornets in the position the Nuggets were in with Carmelo Anthony this season. Is he frustrated enough with the situation, does he see so little hope that he could try to force his way out? How will the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement impact all of that?

There are hard questions ahead for the Hornets. But one thing was clear as the fans in New Orleans rained down a “thank you Hornets” chant on their team at the end of that game — New Orleans has some passionate fans that love that team.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.