The Hornets, fresh off a dramatic game 4 win, travel to L.A. to take on the Lakers in a critical game 5. Yes, the two-time defending champs have been in this situation before- just last year, the Lakers were tied 2-2 and looked completely disinterested in their first round series against the Thunder, and they went on to roll to a second consecutive title. However, they've never faced a player like Chris Paul, who has consistently had his way with the Lakers defense. It hasn't mattered if they've sent double teams, triple teams, traps, switched on pick and rolls, etc... CP3 has found a way to beat this Lakers defense.
Five keys to tonight's game
1) Kobe's health
Kobe appeared to sprain his ankle/foot towards the end of Sunday night's game. If he's hurting tonight, it does two things.
1- slows him down... This is obviously a huge plus. Whoever he defends will run pick and rolls for CP3, and CP3 will eat Kobe's lunch on offense.
2- limits him offensively- honestly, I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Obviosuly, Kobe is one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, but I've always felt the Lakers are more dangerous when Kobe acts as more a distributor than creator and the Lakers play through their big men.
2) Willie and Beli
I'm starting to wonder if these two thought this was the NCAA tournament, and you only needed to show up and win one game to advance. Consider this-
Combined stats for game 1- 18 points, 8 of 16 shooting, no turnovers.
Combined stats for games 2-4 - 25 points, 10 for 41 shooting, six turnovers
Look, these two give your team one thing- scoring. Ok, Green plays decent defense as well, but if they're not scoring, they're worthless. Beli, in particular, has been horrendous, missing wide open threes and jumpers left and right. These two need to start knocking down the WIDE open jumpers CP3 is setting up for them... it will help relieve the Hornets scoring problems (the Hornets are really struggling to generate offense this series) and take pressure of CP3 to do everything himself.
3) Who shows up- first or second half Ariza
Look, Ariza was a complete monster in the first half. He was constantly getting to the rim and throwing down thonderous dunks and creating shots for teammates. He single handedly kept the Hornets offense awake until CP3 took over. Plus, he held Kobe to NO points in the first half. However, in the second half, he was back to the old Trevor- jacking up contested jump shots with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, not drivign and creating, and just generally being a black hole on the offensive end. On the defensive end, he wasn't terrible, but he also wasn't showing the same level of effort as the first half and Kobe went off for 17. When the Ariza from the first half shows up, this team is really, really difficult to beat and I would honestly put him up against any wing in the league. When the Ariza from the second half shows up, the Hornets lose and I'd almost rather have Ariza on the bench.
4) Chris Paul
I only put it this far down because it's so obvious- for the Hornets to win, Chris Paul needs to dominate. In games 2 and 3, he was the best point guard in the league... and it wasn't enough. In games 1 and 4, he was the best PLAYER in the league, and the Hornets won. It's that simple. If CP3 is simply amazing, Hornets lose. If he's out of this would, the Hornets have a shot.
5) Landry and Oak
The stat lines don't show it, but these two were HUGE in game 4. Landry, of course, needs to show up on the offensive end, drive to the hole when the Lakers pressure him, and hit the open jump shots when CP3 sets him up. Oak was amazing on the defensive end, pushing around the much bigger Andrew Bynum, controlling the Lakers bigs on the boards, altering shots around the rim, and tipping out balls for offensive rebounds. The Lakers clearly have the edge inside, but when our bigs come with the level of passion and drive they did in game 4, the Lakers can be shut down. We need that tonight.
The Lakers are ten point favorites. Honestly, I feel like tonight is return of the empire night, and the Lakers use their superior size to bully the Hornets. But 10 points? Have the oddsmakers been watching this series??? With Kobe potentially hurting???? That seems silly. Can the Lakers beat the Hornets by ten? Of course. But I'd much rather take the points and trust in CP3 to keep the Hornets close and give them a shot to win. And, as an upfront note, I'm picking the Hornets to win what in game 6 (see below for why) no matter what happens tonight.
Lakers 96, Hornets 88
Just wanted to note- I will talk about it more in my game 6 preview, but there's no way the Hornets win game 4 without the incredible crowd from Sunday night getting them amped up the entire game. Great job to all the Hornets fans who were there, it was by far the best game experience I've ever been to.