Game Notes: Lakers at Hornets
The champs come to town and teach the Hornets a little something about preparation.
by Allen Powell II
The level of sublime improvisation commonplace in an NBA game is ultimately the result of mind-numbing repetition. Playing basketball on the highest level obviously involves an insane amount of practice, (Allen Iverson included) but watching NBA players, particularly the best ones, go through their pre-game routines drives that point home. For the League’s stars, almost every shot made during a game was taken a dozen times before the crowd filed in.
When Kobe Bryant makes a jumper, his feet, elbow and wrist take the same positions with a loose and consistent grace. It’s easy to imagine they’ve assumed those same positions a million times. Watching him pre-game is akin to watching Beethoven run through scales; every dribble and swish feels like a pre-ordained prologue to an impending masterpiece.
The Hornets are starting Chris Paul, David West, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Pondexter and Aaron Gray. Lakers are starting Kobe, Ron-Ron, Pau, Fisher and Bynum… Man, that ain’t fair.
The only position the Hornets have a clear advantage at is with the point guard. Other than that, it’s all Lakers.
Kobe opens the game with a jumper on the baseline that he practiced for 10 minutes pre-game. A few plays later he does an in-an-out dribble that leads to a jumper at the right elbow. He practiced that move for 15 minutes pre-game.
Either the Hornets are playing horrible defense, or the Lakers bigs are really good. It might be a little of both.
Pau Gasol’s willingness to pass the ball is the ultimate gift and curse. It’s nice that he has the vision to set up Bynum for easy dunks, but shouldn’t he be punishing David West, who is 6’8”, on the block? He still finishes with 10 points and three assists in the quarter.
Monty Williams is going to his bench early and often. It’s going to be key to find a spark there..
Apparently Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor are the key to the Hornets’ defense. Not really a surprise, but it’s painfully obvious early in the game as the Lakers use crisp ball movement and mismatches all over the floor to get open shot after open shot. Even their misses are open.
Jarrett Jack is better than you think. Sasha Pavlovic is not.
Chris Paul is a strange bird. He’s probably the best scorer on the Hornets’ squad, but he’s not comfortable in that role. Even when he’s open he’s still hoping for somebody else to get clear for a shot, not because he’s afraid to shoot, but because he’d just rather pass. It’s interesting to watch. Scoring is definitely the easier way to dominate a game.
For five trips up and down the court Kobe worked to get a look on the block against Marcus Thornton. Lakers missed him multiple times, but when he finally got it, he gave Thornton a little half-spin and hit the fadeaway. Next time down, he hits a straightaway three, which he also practiced in warm-ups. Beautiful music.
If David West can’t guard Pau Gasol on the block, right now Gasol can’t guard him either. Maybe they have some sort of non-aggression pact.
Man, the Lakers are operating like a well-oiled machine on offense. Kobe isn’t even touching rim on his jumpers. Hell, Ron Artest is hitting shots! The Lakers have 51 points with two minutes left in the half against a Hornets squad that typically gives up 91 points a game. The only good thing is that the Lakers aren’t really trying on defense. If they were giving a consistent effort, this game would be a laugher. Instead, the Hornets are hanging around for no good reason.
Little things matter. With 30 seconds left in the half, Thornton fouls Kobe 25 feet from the hoop trying to “hustle” on defense. Yeah, it’s good to work hard, but you have to recognize situation. However, Fisher gives the two points right back by fouling Paul at half court. Effort < Achievement.
It’s a six-point lead for the Lakers, but it should be double that size. Every Lakers starter not named Derek Fisher is shooting 50 percent or better from the field. Kobe has 18 and Pau has 19. However, the Lakers are playing like they can flip the defensive switch and get the victory at any time.
Maybe without Okafor and Ariza that’s true, but it’s a dangerous bet. Especially since the Lakers are playing on the road in the first game of a seven-game road trip. It seems like a veteran team would be looking to end this thing early and get ready for the next one.
Derek Fisher flopped on a pick and roll, and stayed down like there were snipers in the building. With most players you wouldn’t question an injury, but with Fisher he could just as easily be trying to get the refs to pay attention to Paul’s habit of using his off-arm and shoulder to get space off the pick. He’s crafty like that you know.
Lakers are trying to put this one away. They are defending and Kobe is living in the lane. Plus, instead of shooting he’s setting up his big men. Hornets need a spark quickly particularly since David West just picked up his fourth foul.
The effect Chris Paul has on his current teammates is similar to the effect club lighting has on mud ducks. Think about it.
Kobe just enrolled Willie Green in an advanced course in post play. But, the Hornets are hanging tough thanks to timely shooting and great passes from Paul who has opened up a free clinic in the lane. Easy dimes everywhere.
Chris Paul hits a clutch three with a defender running at him. Guess what? He practiced that shot pre-game.
Gasol is in full on beast mode right now. He’s got 30 through three quarters.
Kobe Bryant is David Bourne. Just when you think he’s cornered, he kills you.
The Hornets refuse to go away. The best point guard in the league hits a jumper in his defender’s mouth to tie the game. Then he hits another one to give the Hornets their first lead. (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be on Team Deron Williams. But, when Chris Paul makes this collection of talent competitive against the defending champions I can’t deny him.. Dude is uncanny.)
Oh yeah. Both shots Paul hit were the exact same shots he worked on pre-game even the one that involved a pump fake and a leaning, off-balance three pointer. Pre-game is like a dress rehearsal for these guys.
Kobe has been in the lane tonight like it’s 2001. Without Okafor or any semblance of a shot blocker the Hornets are allowing Kobe to take the bare minimum of contested long jumpers to get his points. He’s 8-14 from two, 3-4 from three and has six boards and five assists. But, the Lakers are only up two points early in the fourth quarter because Paul hit six straight shots while dishing out 14 assists.
Hornets have a dilemma. The team’s best scoring two-guard is Marcus Thornton. Unfortunately he cannot guard Kobe Bryant by any stretch of the imagination. But, Marco Belinelli and Willie Green allow Kobe to rest completely on defense. Monty Williams has to decide whether to go offense or defense when none of the players he can choose from are great at either one.
After torrid start, David West has been largely quiet in the second half due to foul trouble.
Seriously, watching Kobe hoop is like watching Leonardo Da Vinci sketch. You see the strokes, but you can’t really appreciate the masterpiece until he finishes. Bean is sitting on 30 points, eight boards and five assists with 2:49 in the fourth. His efficiency hasn’t held up, but it’s still amazing to watch. Derek
Fisher has flopped or flailed his arms on every single pick and roll he’s been involved in this game. At 1:07 in the fourth, he finally reaped what he sowed with an offensive foul call on Chris Paul. Crafty.
Lakers finally come away with the W, but it was harder than it needed to be given how well both Gasol and Kobe played for most of the game. The loss snaps a six game home winning streak for the Hornets.
Phil Jackson says that when the Lakers finally clamped down on defense, they won the game. Simple.