There's not a lot of reasons to be upset about losing to the Lakers. Their combination of size and skill in the frontcourt overwhelms most teams, and overwhelms the Hornets in particular. And of course there's the presence of young upstart Kobe Bryant to deal with as well. That said, I can't say I liked the way it went down tonight, even if a loss was the expected result.
The primary disappointment was seeing Chris Paul regress back to the shot-avoidant style he's displayed for much of the season. Being without David West takes away the team's primary scoring option, and from the opening tip tonight the Lakers were scoring easily. Why, then, didn't Chris Paul look for his own shot? I don't know the answer. I do know that the game was essentially lost in the first quarter. Trevor Ariza got absolutely smoked by Kobe Bryant on play after play early on. It was rather surprising to see. I know Kobe has the ability to destroy basically any defender, but it's rare to see Ariza get burnt so easily and so often. While Kobe was going to work on Ariza, Bynum went to work on Emeka Okafor and Gasol went to work on Landry. Okafor is a legitimately good, perhaps even great, defender. However, when he's overmatched, there's little he can do. Bynum is simply too big for Okafor to handle on most plays, Despite this fact, the Hornets chose not to double Bynum early in the game. Ultimately Bynum would get in foul trouble (thanks in part to the very solid play of Aaron Gray), but he had a strong impact early. Gasol, on the other hand, had an impact all game long. 23 points and 16 rebounds for Gasol, on 9-14 shooting. The Hornets simply don't have anyone who can guard the man. Landry certainly wasn't slowing him down.
That all sounds a bit bleak doesn't it? In fact the game as a whole wasn't nearly as bleak as the final score makes it look. Nearly every time the Lakers attempted to pull away the Hornets had an answer, however temporary. Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor, despite being outmatched defensively, both had nice performances on the offensive end and on the boards. Okafor had 14 points on 7-11 from the field and 11 rebounds, while Landry poured in a very David West-esque statline of 24 points on 8-16 from the field and 10 rebounds. A number of Okaor's buckets came off of excellent Trevor Ariza passes. As I stated above, Ariza didn't have a great defensive performance and he certainly didn't have a good shooting night (does he ever?), but he was able to probe the Laker defense and he made a number of smart passes. Ariza finished the night with 5 assists. I'd certainly like to see that from Ariza more often.
Another inspiring aspect of the game was the performance of Aaron Gray. It seems as if every time Monty gives Gray serious playing time, Gray proves that he's deserving of it. Tonight, Gray had the bulk to bother Andrew Bynum, he was the Hornets best rebounder on a per minute basis, and he scored a very efficient 7 points on 3 shots. Monty decided not to use Emeka Okafor and Gray together, but I would have liked to see it. As neither have anything close to a consistent jumpshot, it could certainly be an offensively challenged lineup, but it's at least worth a shot against the Lakers.
Despite the offensive performances of Landry and Okafor, the solid all-around performance of Gray and the many runs the Hornets managed to put together, there was never a point in the game in which I really believed the Hornets could take over the lead. The primary reason was, as mentioned above, the play of Chris Paul. He was making good passes, he was rebounding and he was getting steals. The one thing he wasn't doing was scoring. Granted, his shot didn't look particularly good tonight, but as any NBA fan knows that can change in a heartbeat, especially with a player of Paul's caliber. Chris finished 4-10 from the field, and he passed up numerous shots, some of them layups and some of them open threes. Sure, sometimes he was passing up those shots to create other open shots for Marco Belinelli or Willie Green, but if Chris' shot was off tonight - then the shots of Green and Belinelli were in permanent shutdown mode. Marco, in particular, was clanging just about everything he threw up at the rim; many of them were excellent looks. Yes, I used a semicolon! I've been wanting to use a semicolon for so long.
Sorry, I digress. Let me continue. I don't want to be too hard on Paul. There's plenty of reasons the Hornets lost this game, and Paul's lack of field goal attempts may not even be a primary one. It's just a bit disheartening considering the recent uptick in his play and the Hornets current situation. Oh well, it's just one game, and it's a game we all expected to end in the L column. The good news is the Hornets now face five straight games at home, and it starts Wednesday night against Portland.