Key Reserves: C Aaron Gray, G Willie Green, F Jason Smith, G Jarrett Jack
Injuries: Lakers – Kobe Bryant (Sprained Left Ankle, Day-to-Day)
The resurrection of CP3 added a dazzling new chapter to its’ archives in Game 4 on Sunday. Paul has answered all the pundits who said he was no longer the Chris Paul of old (myself included) by absolutely torching the Lakers defense so far this series.
His latest performance might be one of the best in this postseason, and one of the best of Paul’s entire career. The barely six-foot point guard sliced and diced his way to his second career playoff triple double, amassing 27 points, 15 assists, and 13 rebounds en route to a huge Game 4 victory over the Lakers that tied the series at two games apiece.
In their two wins, the Hornets have done a masterful job of exposing two of the Lakers biggest weaknesses – quick, penetrating guards, and pick and roll defense. Nearly every time down the court, New Orleans will set a high screen roll at the top of the key, forcing either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol to switch onto Paul, and it’s all downhill from there.
Now, what was different in the two Laker victories? Instead of switching the defensive assignment on the screen, the Laker bigs would show, hedge and recover to their original man. With either Pau or ‘Drew hedging on that screen, it pushed Paul further away from the basket, allowing his defender (Fish, Kobe, Ron) to recover.
Why did the Lakers not employ this defensive strategy Sunday night? They did, but it takes a lot of energy on behalf of the front court guys, which was non-existent. The Lakers reverted back to their Game 1 ways and took the easy way out by just switching the screen and allowing Paul to expose a huge mismatch.
The Lakers come home to Staples Center with their backs against the wall, again. This time, though, it’s different. Kobe Bryant is not fully healthy after he turned his ankle late in Game 4, and was forced to the sideline for one possession, only to re-enter the game shortly thereafter. It was not the same Kobe, however, as he ran and cut very gingerly on that left ankle.
Kobe left New Orleans Arena on crutches and was slated to have an MRI once the Lakers landed in Los Angeles. After numerous treatments, Bryant decided against any further testing and declared that he will play in Game 5.
The Lakers inconsistent and lackluster performances from the superstars and on down to the last player on the bench, have put them in a very uncomfortable position – but not one this team hasn’t been in before. Just last year, the Lakers were in the same situation against the Thunder. The difference between the two situations – the desperation factor. The Hornets are a desperate team playing with a chip on their shoulders and nothing to lose, and that’s a scary combination.
Three Keys to a Laker Victory:
1. Be active on defense: The Lakers cannot keep switching their bigs onto CP3. It causes a huge mismatch, and dooms the purple and gold.
2. Pau and Lamar have to show up: They haven’t thus far, and it’s now, or never.
3. Come out strong early: They have to come out and demoralize this New Orleans squad. They already have a ton of confidence, the Lakers have got to put that out early and establish control.