Lakers vs. Hornets Pre-Game Report: Lakers Look For Third Straight

Kobe Bryant,  Robin LopezThe Lakers have adopted a new mindset and a new game plan that has proven to be successful over the past two games. They finally accomplished the feat of beating an elite team with their thrilling victory on Sunday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers still have an uphill battle to push for a playoff spot, but the team looked like an entirely different one from just a week ago. The Lakers have shown that they can play for each other as a team, which has improved their energy and performance, especially on the defensive end.

Now it becomes about sustainability and consistency. With the upcoming Grammy road trip quickly approaching (starts Wednesday at Phoenix), the Lakers will have a chance to change the direction of their season. The Lakers face the New Orleans Hornets tonight at Staples. If you remember, the last time these two teams met, Kobe joined the 30K club. The soon to be Pelicans are coming off a surprising win against the Memphis Grizzles. The Lakers have an all-time record of 45-17 against the Hornets with a 23-8 home record against New Orleans.

Can the Lakers build on their recent progress tonight?

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Frontcourt: Even though Ryan Anderson is coming off the bench, his contributions arguably has the biggest impact on the Hornets. Anderson stretches the floor and can get very hot at the three-point line if left alone on defense. Anderson is averaging 17.0 points (leads teams) and 6.7 rebounds on 43.6 percent shooting and 39.5 percent shooting from the three-point line. Rookie Anthony Davis has been battling an ankle injury for the past week or so, but is expected to play. He leads all rookies in rebounds (7.8), blocks (1.8) and steals (1.2). Davis is adding 12.8 points per game, which is fourth among rookies this season.

The Lakers should take advantage of the matchup inside between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez. There should be no reason why Howard cannot block out Lopez, as Lopez is not great on the glass. Lopez can work the pick-and-roll with Eric Gordon. If Dwight can clog the lane, he can take that part of his game away. Al-Farouq Aminu can easily reach double figures in rebounding if not boxed out. In fact, in nine of the last 12 games, Aminu has grabbed 10 or more rebounds per game. Overall, Aminu is averaging 8.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on 48.5 percent shooting.

Backcourt: Eric Gordon has been back for 13 games for New Orleans after missing more than two months of action with his knee injury and after receiving that max contract. Gordon has inserted himself into the Hornets’ offense quite nicely as he is posting 16.8 points and 3.7 assists per game in 29.5 minutes. The Lakers’ defense should force Gordon out of the lane as he is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field so far this season.

Greivis Vasquez has been arguably the biggest surprise for the Hornets this year. Vasquez has solid playmaking skills and his ability to dribble penetrate will be a constant challenge for the Lakers defense to prevent. I expect to see Kobe Bryant step up and take the task of defending the speedy Vasquez. He is averaging 13.8 points and 9.2 assists per game, but has struggled with his shot over the past two games, shooting 3-22. Rookie Austin Rivers has seen consistent minutes and can play both backcourt positions. Rivers is averaging 6.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, but hasn’t been consistent with his shooting accuracy (33.3 percent from the field).

Keys to Victory:

Keep Them Under 90:  The Hornets’ offense can be very lackluster at times, as they average 93.2 points per game (27th in the NBA). While the Hornets are the 27th best transition team in the league, the Lakers cannot fall asleep on transition defense because of this fact. It will be important for the Lakers to take advantage of their ability to rebound (2nd in the NBA), as the Hornets give up the least amount of rebounds to opponents in the league with 48.0 per game. Controlling the boards allows the Lakers to slow down the game to a pace that is most effective for them as a team.

The Lakers’ defense has been much improved over the past two games. Increased communication and the sense of accountability among the players have strengthened the team’s defense. D’Antoni has stressed high energy and focus especially on the defensive end. If the Lakers keep to their commitment to team defense then the game will be so much easier for them.

Continue to Share the Ball: The Lakers have played actual team ball the last two games by moving the ball very effectively. As a result of the increased ball movement, the energy on offense has improved and has lasted for all four quarters in each game. With team ball, the concern of who ends up with the shot fades and more focus is stressed on doing what it takes to get the ball to go into the basket. While the Lakers aren’t exactly following Mike D’Antoni’s offense, the team has done a solid job at spreading the court even though the pace of the game has slowed to adjust to the players’ strengths.

During yesterday’s shoot around, D’Antoni stressed half court spreads and ball movement as the main points of focus. The Lakers have posted 55 assists in the last two games, led by Kobe Bryant’s 28 assists combined. With increased ball movement, the Lakers keep the defense on their toes, while allowing players to open up for a high opportunity shot. The Lakers need to take advantage of the fact that the New Orleans’ defense gives up 23.1 assists per game (25th in the NBA).

New Orleans Hornets (15-29) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (19-25)
7:30 PM PST, January 29, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)

Hornets Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Eric Gordon
SG: Greivis Vasquez
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Robin Lopez

Key Reserves: F Ryan Anderson, G Austin Rivers

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