Tag: Los Angeles New Orleans

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five

NBA Playoffs: Nobody closes out on the road like the Lakers


Back in the 2009 NBA finals, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Orlando Magic in Game 5 on the road. Last playoffs on their way to the finals, the Lakers closed out Oklahoma City, Utah and Phoenix all on the road.

Thursday night, they are back in that situation — they can close out the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans Arena. The Lakers are up 3-2 in their first round series and the only thing between them and the second round is Chris Paul. Which is no small obstacle.

By Game 6 of a playoff series there are no more tricks, no more adjustments, no more surprises. You know your opponent, they know you. It’s a matter of execution.

For the Hornets, that means a lot of Chris Paul — in the two games the Hornets have won in this series, he simply has been superhuman. When he has been merely human – 20 points and 12 assists in Game 5, for example — they have lost. Look for Paul to be aggressive on the pick-and-roll and try to tear up the Lakers defense again.

With Kobe Bryant’s still sore ankle, Paul will get less of the potentially-disruptive Kobe and more Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Look for Ron Artest to get time guarding Paul if he  gets hot.

Bryant’s ankle looked good on dunks when he was diving right at the rim in Game 5, but his lateral movement was decidedly slower. Phil Jackson said his ankle is still not 100 percent. Paul right now would eat him alive. Look for the Hornets to attack Kobe until he proves he can defend.

For the Lakers, the equation is simple — pound the ball inside and use your size and skill advantage up front. Really, this is the recipe for every Lakers playoff series, every regular season game and so on. But the Lakers still are more than willing to get away from it. Pau Gasol had his best game in Game 5, matching the physicality of New Orleans, look for him to try and establish that again.

If the Lakers can defend and create turnovers, if they stick with their game plan, they will win and close out on the road again. That is, unless the superhuman Paul shows up again. In which case the traveling parties can get back on a plane bound for Los Angeles and a deciding Game 7 Saturday.

Trevor Ariza: Hero of the casual, unsuspecting sports fan

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Three
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The NBA playoffs are a basketball fan’s dream; there are anywhere between two and four competitive basketball games on every night, each with their own allure, their own stars, and their own evolving narrative. There’s so much to enjoy and so much to learn, and unfortunately — due to wide, national broadcasting and the influx of casual sports fans — so much to misunderstand.

Case in point: Trevor Ariza, Chris Paul’s uncharacteristically efficient sidekick. Those joining the NBA season already in progress have seen Ariza at his finest against the Lakers, performing at a high level on both ends of the court. On-ball perimeter defense has always been among Ariza’s strengths; he has the length and athleticism to bother even the league’s finest scorers, and has done solid work against Kobe Bryant in this particular series. Yet offensively, Ariza has been oddly successful. He’s posted three games with 19 or more points on decent shooting percentages, and even grabbed 12 rebounds (to go along with 12 points) in another contest. For five games, Ariza has been everything that his reputation once suggested he could be, granting unsuspecting sports fans all the fodder they need to trumpet his success.

Ariza has held up well under the bright lights, but he hasn’t evolved from the player we’ve seen in an 146-game sample over the last two years. Basketball players are prone to periodic ups and downs, and Ariza happens to be experiencing a favorable swing at the best possible moment. He’s posted a 16.6 PER in the playoffs thus far — a far cry from his 11.3 regular season mark — and given his team a huge lift in their attempt to upset the Lakers in the first round.

That’s why he’ll be a water cooler talking point and a sports bar spectacle. Those merely stopping by to catch a playoff game can watch Ariza’s effective play and eat up his story (An unassuming non-star and a “wronged” player returning to face the team who wronged him!), but League Pass junkies know better than to be fooled by this kind of mirage. There’s nothing in the film or in the numbers that suggests Ariza’s new-found efficiency is indicative of legitimate improvement. It’s fun nonetheless to see him working on a more efficient level, but all of the good will and media attention in the world won’t make Ariza anything but himself. This is still the player who shot under 40 percent from the field and just over 30 percent from the three-point line during the regular season. This is still the player who dribbles away possessions while obliging his own delusions. He’s merely experiencing a very natural — and temporary — upward trend in his production, and as the sample size continues to increase, his numbers will trend back to their regular season anchor.

The Lakers will probably win the series, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever have that opportunity. Still, these exceptional shooting performances (5-of-8 from beyond the arc?!) are just that.

Hornets’ coach explains Kobe’s ankle better than Kobe

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five

Kobe Bryant wouldn’t really talk about his injured ankle, and he wasn’t letting doctors look at it either. All Phil Jackson would say was that he was playing.

After the game, it took Hornets coach Monty Williams to sum it up best (as reported by Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated):

“All this talk about his ankle — did it look like his ankle was hurting? OK then. It is what it is. He made a spectacular play.”

The spectacular play in question is his dunk over Ekemka Okafor. Although the one over Carl Landry was pretty good, too.

It would be very Kobe for the treatments to work, for his ankle to feel a lot better and for him to keep that quiet as his own little secret he would spring on the world during the game. Kobe loves him some mind games, some psychological warfare.

Maybe that’s why he and Phil Jackson get along.

NBA Playoffs: It’s not Kobe’s ankle, it’s Chris Paul breaking them

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Two
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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.

Kobe foolishly refuses MRI on ankle, says he will play

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Four

Kobe Bryant is going to play Tuesday night in Game 5. Nobody really ever doubted that — if his leg was attached he was going.

We laud Kobe for that attitude, we like our athletes to be warriors.

But Kobe also refused X-rays and an MRI on his injury, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ Land o’ Lakers blog.

He doesn’t want the information on what might be wrong. He doesn’t want to hear an answer to the question, it may be the kind of news where the doctor would sit him, so he’s just going to play. Regardless.

Which may backfire. For Kobe and for the Lakers in a Game 5 that will go a long way to deciding the series.

Kobe didn’t speak to the media Monday and all Phil Jackson would say is his star guard is going to play. He sprained his ankle on a fluke play in the fourth quarter Sunday, running across the lane on defense and his toe just kind of caught on the court and his ankle twisted (after the game Kobe said it was more foot than ankle).

The Lakers would struggle without Kobe, but not as much as they will with a hobbling Kobe who keeps shooting despite missing because he can’t get elevation, who can’t defend Chris Paul (which would leave Derek Fisher and Steve Blake with the assignment).

The Lakers strength this series is inside. They don’t exploit it often enough (and Emeka Okafor stepped up last game for his best defensive effort) but the Lakers have that card. Whether they win Game 5 will largely depend on who wins that battle inside.

Kobe matters in this series, but if he plays through an injury that makes him a shadow of himself, it may be in a way he doesn’t want.