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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.

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.

NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul is beating the Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Four

Bask in the glory that is Chris Paul.

We as basketball fans need to step back and revel in great games and great players, and Chris Paul is one and did that. He was dominant Sunday night, he was the reason the Hornets won 93-88 to even the series.

He put up 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — in the second half. For the game it was 27 points 15 assists and 13 rebounds. He was draining corner threes, driving the lane and when the defense collapsed was willing to pass to Jarrett Jack — who didn’t have a bucket on the night before that — to hit the dagger with 9 seconds left. Paul was brilliant late in the game in a “how high can he go on the all time point guard list?” kind of way. Paul was embarrassing Derek Fisher with steals and slashing to the rim as well as anyone in the league.

It’s not going to matter, the Hornets are likely going to still lose this series. Seriously. Maybe in six games. That doesn’t take away from what Chris Paul did.

If you’re questioning the Lakers chances, remember that you were questioning them a year ago, too, when a young Oklahoma City team tied them at 2-2 in the first round. We remember how that ended.

These Lakers still have the ultimate advantage — they have size and skill up front. It’s just that Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined to shoot 10-of-26 on the night and missed key shots and chances down the stretch. The Lakers have an advantage that they just simply did not use well.

Look at it this way: Chris Paul had as many rebounds as Gasol and Odom combined (thanks to ESPN’s Land o’ Lakers). That is 6’0” point guard Chris Paul. A little shrub among the trees. Yet het got the ball. That should say all you need to know about the effort and play of the Lakers front line.

And we know they are fully capable of putting together back-to-back games the Hornets cannot match.

But CP3 might come close. He has flat out been the best player in the series. But not in the first half of this game.

It was actually a pretty offensively efficient half for one where Kobe Bryant didn’t score and Chris Paul had just four points. It was the shootout we all expected — Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza. Both had 16 first half points. The really the big shock was the Hornets had controlled the boards and that combined with some penetration in the second quarter had them controlling the paint on the taller Lakers.

That trend continued, the Hornets controlled the boards all night.

Kobe had 14 points in the third quarter. That’s when Chris Paul reached his triple double. And you had the feeling these two might start to really go at it.

Even with all of Paul’s brilliance, the Lakers had their chances

But while Kobe was good, Paul was brilliant. Runners, jumpers, threes, he was hitting them all. More important was the 15 assists as he got his teammates involved.

He will need to have two more games like this for the Hornets to have any chance. But really, it’s about the Lakers big men. No matter how bad Kobe’s ankle hurts (he twisted it in the fourth quarter but stayed in the game) the big men are the key. They did not shine tonight. Paul did.

And that’s why the series is tied.

NBA Playoffs: Look for the stars to come out in New Orleans

New Orleans Hornets Paul drives on Los Angeles Lakers Bryant during Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in Los Angeles
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Our first word of advice for this game — wear sunglasses. Yes, we know you are watching on television. But the Hornets are going with a “sea of yellow” look (all the fans getting yellow T-shirts) and it will the Hornets uniforms themselves (they got permission to wear the alternate yellow jerseys). It will be like looking into the sun. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

You want to save those retinas because this should be a game to watch.

Because this is a big game where the big stars may well be the key.

Often in big road games, Kobe Bryant comes out aggressive and tries to shut the crowd up himself with a fast start. Sometimes it works, but it also can take the Lakers out of their flow. Just to reiterate the point everyone knows — the Lakers strength is their length and skill on the front line and the triangle is much better working inside out. Not that there will not be a time for Kobe to do his thing, but he has to play well with others.

You can bet Chris Paul is going to come out with that same kind of fire. If the Lakers try to defend him as individuals as they did in Game 1, he will carve them up again. Paul has flat out been the best player in this series. The Lakers big men are key here, they cut off his angles of attack off the pick-and-roll well in Game 2. You can bet Paul will adjust. Or he could just get hot draining jumpers.

You’re also not going to see a full night of Kobe on CP3, fighting over the top of picks. But you can bet Kobe will be on him for key stretches.

The guy who may be the real key is the Lakers No. 2 option — Pau Gasol.

The Hornets have kept him in check through two games — he has averaged 8 points per game on 21.1 percent shooting. The Lakers are not going to win games in New Orleans without more from him. Expect the Lakers to run some screens along the baseline to get Gasol more room to catch the ball without having to fight Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry for space. Expect to see Gasol put the ball on the floor a little more and try to get to the line. If he gets going the Hornets will have a hard time containing the Lakers attack. If the Hornets can keep him uncomfortable they have a real chance.

One other thought — best bench may get its team enough of a lead that the starters will hold it.

Video: Lakers talk about win despite off night from stars

Los Angeles Lakers Bryant celebrates with Gasol of Spain against New Orleans Hornets during Game 2 of NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in Los Angeles
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Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined to score 19 points on 5-of-20 shooting, but the Lakers still won Game 2 Wednesday night to even their series. Look at that picture to the right — Kobe and Gasol couldn’t even high-five well.

It shows why the Lakers are two-time defending champs. You think Miami wins if LeBron and Wade shoot like that? Thunder if Durant and Westbrook are off like that? How many teams have the depth to win a playoff game if their two leading scorers are off?

The Lakers do, which is why Phil Jackson and Kobe did not seem too worried about their down offensive night in this video of post-game discussions. Chris Paul says the same thing from another perspective.

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