Lakers Begin Quest To Three-Peat Sunday Against Hornets

Hornets Projected Starting Line-up:

PG: Chris Paul
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Carl Landry
C: Emeka Okafor

Key Reserves: G Willie Green, G Jarrett Jack, C Aaron Gray, SF Quincy Pondexter, F Jason Smith.

Injuries: PF David West (Out for Season – torn ACL)

The playoffs are finally here. This is what we have all been waiting for. The purple and gold begin their quest for a three-peat Sunday afternoon against the New Orleans Hornets. Buckle up, people! The time is now.

After the Lakers scorching post All-Star break 18 game run, which saw them win 17 out of their first 18 games, the purple and gold hit the proverbial “wall”. The Lakers limped to the finish line, both literally, and figuratively. Kobe and Co. finished the regular season losing five of their final seven games, the wins being very shaky one’s – the first against the Parker, Ginobili and Duncan-less Spurs, and the second was an overtime nail-biter against a lesser Sacramento squad who rallied late to shrink the Lakers 22-point stronghold on the game.

The Lakers woes aren’t only with their recent play, either. Three key Lakers are battling either an injury, or a sickness. Steve Blake has been ruled out for Sunday’s game with the chickenpox, Matt Barnes (knee) did not practice on Friday, but is listed as probable for Sunday, and Andrew Bynum (knee) practiced Friday and should be ready for Game 1.

Luckily for the Lakers, Kobe was able to bail them out against Sacramento on Wednesday night. That win secured the second seed in the West playoffs, allowing them to avoid Portland, and instead face-off against a short-handed Hornets squad. New Orleans is the ideal first round matchup for the Lakers, with two very dangerous teams in Portland and Memphis at the six and eight seeds respectively, the Hornets are considered the easiest opponent.

Chris Paul is no longer CP3 – just Chris Paul. It seems as if ever since the departure of Tyson Chandler, and a few injuries to Paul, he has lost some of his luster. Paul is below his career averages in points, rebounds and assists (15.9, 9.8, 4.1), and he just doesn’t look like the same player. If the Lakers are to defend him with that mindset, Paul will light them up. The rest of the back court is littered with guys who can score. Belinelli has unlimited range, and will not hesitate to pull the trigger, Willie Green is a big guard who can get to hole and finish, and Jarrett Jack is more of a distributor, but he can also hit the long-range and mid-range jumper.

Emeka Okafor anchors the New Orleans front court. Okafor is solid on defense and on the glass. He is not much of an offensive threat, however, as most of his points will come off of the pick and roll or put-backs’. Trevor Ariza is a slasher who can finish in traffic, and step out behind the arc and hit the three. Ariza has struggled against the Lakers as of late, but he can break out at any time. Carl Landry is a nice player, but he is no David West. Landry is considered one of the best sixth-men in the league, but had to step in to the starting line-up once West was lost for the season, leaving the Hornets bench very thin. Aaron Gray brings good size to their bench, but not much else. Gray will be used to spell Okafor and Landry. Pondexter and Smith are both guys who can put the ball in the basket, but neither of them should worry the Lakers.

Three Keys’ to a Laker Victory:
1. Play solid pick and roll defense – Paul lives and breathes the pick and roll. Most of the Hornets scoring opportunities are a result of Paul’s success using an Okafor pick to get free. If they defend it well, they will limit New Orleans’ scoring opportunities.
2. Control the boards – The Hornets’ bigs’ cannot create their own shots, and work hard on the offensive glass. Keep them to only one shot, do not allow second-chance points.
3. Pound it inside on offense – Pau, ‘Drew and Lamar have a huge advantage in the paint, it needs to be exposed.

Win an Autographed Ron Artest Card from our friends at Panini America, the official trading card of the NBA. We’re going to be doing these kind of giveaways before every game in the Playoffs, so make sure you check back often on game days to get first crack at predictions. All you have to do is:

1) Be the first person on our blog, facebook or twitter to predict the Lakers field goal percentage, Lakers free throw percentage and point total for both teams for Game 1 of the 1st Round NBA Playoff matchup between the Lakers and Hornets today at 12:30p.

2) Please note that the field goal percentage and free throw percentage are in 3 digit format, so 2 digit predictions will not be counted. The official percentages will be used from yahoo sports.

3) All Predictions must be entered by the end of the 1st quarter. All predictions after, will automatically be disqualified.

4) Winners will be announced in our Post Game Instant Recap of Game 1 vs. the Hornets. Follow us on for Play by Play of the Game

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