I wish I could show all of you a picture of me with all of the egg I have on my face from my call on the first game. Wow, I don't know if I could have been more wrong about the outcome.... and I could not be happier! Honestly, I don't think anyone was more pessimistic about the Hornets chances in this series than I was, so game one was both a shock and a huge relief.
The match ups haven't really changed since game one (it is the same two teams, after all!), so instead of my usual key match ups list, I'm going to break down some key trends I noticed in game one that will affect game 2.
Trend #1- CP3 = unstoppable
Could I really have anything else as the first trend? CP3 showed us what he is when he's fully healthy- the best pure point guard in the game, and against a Lakers team whose one weakness is defending point guards, he proved to be devastating. Quite honestly, as long as he's playing like this, none of the other trends are going to matter because the Hornets are going to have a chance against everyone. The one worry for me is- that was clearly a different CP3 then we've seen since his injury. Did the excitement of beign back in the playoffs allow him to overcome his knee and show his true form for one game, but he's going to come back to earth as the excitement wears off? Or was he holding back all season to be ready for this moment. Honestly, I believe the later, but the former could still be in play.
Trend #2- Ariza knowing his role
When you're such a bad shooter that you inspire the story "Is Ariza the Worst Shooter of All Time?", maybe you should hold back on jacking three pointers up with 14 seconds left on the shoot clock. And that story was written BEFORE Ariza's stink bomb in game 1 of this series, where he shot 2 of 13 despite consistently getting open looks from CP breaking the Lakers down. Ariza NEEDS to focus on the defensive end. He's supposed to be our defensive stopper, and while I don't feel like he did a terrible job against Kobe, I can't exactly applaud a defensive performance that "holds" a player to 34 points on 13 of 26 shooting. On offense, Ariza needs to focus exclusively on cutting to the basket. This will do three things
1) it makes Ariza do what he's best at, using his athleticism to complement the offense and hopefully get some dunks.
2) since Kobe guards him, force Kobe to spend some energy on defense
3) prevent Ariza from shooting jump shots.
Trend #3- Hornets bench domination
Outside of Lamar Odom, the Laker's really don't have any talent on their bench. Given this is the playoffs and the Lakers can play their starters for much longer minutes, I figured this wouldn't be a huge deal. However, the bench was out of this world on Sunday. JJ was 5 of 6 for 15 points and 5 assists, and Willie Green was 4 of 7 for 8 points. While it will probably take them a couple more shots to do it, we really need those two to combine for 25 or so points to generate enough offense to beat the Lakers.
Trend #4- The big gray monster
I was worried Andrew Bynum would DESTROY the Hornets. Little did I know that the best big man in this series on Sunday was going to be on the Hornets. If Gray can play (still no OFFICIAL word on his ankle) and plays with anywhere near the effectiveness he played with on Sunday, the Hornets chances go up dramatically.
Trend #5- Landry vs Gasol
Gasol was terrible on Sunday while Landry had a very effective game. I don't expect Gasol to be that bad going forward, but as long as Landry can somewhat limit him while finishing up what CP3 starts on the other end, the Hornets should be fine.
Bonus trend- later start times
I didn't mention this in the first one, cause I thought it might be a bit crazy, but the first game was at 12:30 pacific time but 2:30 central time. Players are creatures of habit, and they aren't used to playing that early. Because of the time zone difference, the early start likely affected the Lakers much more than the Hornets. Do I think this was the difference in the game? Of course not!!! But it could have been a contributor to the Lakers flat start. Each of the next three games is a bit later than the Hornets are used to.... just something to keep in mind.
The Lakers are 11.5 point favorites. Seriously, the Hornets win a game no one expected them to win on Sunday, and the Lakers become bigger favorites??? My guy says the Lakers will come out strong and dominant this game from the start, and any future Hornets victories will have to come in the Hive. But my heart says CP3 is back and he alone will keep the Hornets in this one. Lakers win, but Hornets keep it close
Lakers 98, Hornets 94