Game 5 is about ankles.
The one getting all the hype is Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s left ankle. His foot is still attached, so he’s playing. That’s not the question.
He twisted his ankle (and foot) at the end of Los Angeles 93-88 loss to New Orleans in Game 4 and has since refused to get an X-ray or an MRI. That can be taken as a sign that his ankle is not that bad, or that he is stubborn. Take your pick. Maybe even some of both. But it could backfire.
If Kobe’s ankle isn’t right, his shot will be flat and he won’t be of much help defending Hornets point guard Chris Paul tonight in Game 5. And that could be trouble for the Lakers. Maybe.
The other ankles are the ones Paul keeps breaking.
He has torn up the Lakers defense this series, and in the Hornets’ two wins he has been absolutely dominant in the second half. His crossovers are breaking ankles and creating space, but more importantly they are forcing defensive rotations and then he is finding the open man.
Who is knocking it down? In the first half of Game 4, Trevor Ariza didn’t even need Paul’s help (he got plenty of isolations) and made plays. The Hornets will need more of that.
The Lakers were 2-2 in their first-round series against Oklahoma City last year, too, but found their footing in the next two games. History may well repeat itself.
That footing has less to do with Kobe’s ankle and more to do with the Lakers getting back to pounding the ball inside (then making those shots). Hornets center Emeka Okafor was able to keep Andrew Bynum — the real key for these Lakers this series — in check. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were off.
The Lakers need to get a lot of points in the paint, more importantly they need to own the boards. They are the bigger team, but they were outrebounded last game. Paul had as many as Odom and Gasol combined (13). What Pat Riley told the Showtime Lakers years ago remains true for these Lakers today: rebounds equal rings.
The Lakers need to make Paul work — they had success in Game 2 with ball denial — and they need to be physical with him. They are the bigger team; they need to wear him down. He is the Hornets’ chance. Even slow him to average and the Lakers can win. But when he breaks out, he is a perfect key to unlock the Lakers.
At this point, this series is not about adjustments. It’s about execution. Paul has been the master; the Lakers have been spotty. If the Lakers play like that again, their dreams of a three-peat will be in sudden and serious jeopardy. Because we know CP3 will bring it.