The Hornets try to stave off elimination against the Lakers tonight in the Hive. For the Hornets to stand a chance, it all comes down to one player- Chris Paul. When CP3 was other-worldly in games 1 and 4, the Hornets won. When he's merely exceptional (games 2,3, and 5), the Hornets lost. It's really been that simple. The Hornets have already pushed this Lakers team farther than anyone thought they could. For the Hornets to extend this series one more game, Chris Paul needs to go off.
5 keys to the game not relating to Chris Paul
1) Who cut down the Oak?
Remember the movie Space Jam? (That's a rhetorical question, of course you remember the greatest movie of all time). I'm starting to wonder if the aliens sucked the talent out of Emeka Okafor's body before this series. That may sound extreme, but hey, they took Sean Marks talent in the movie, and Oak would certainly be better than him!
For the series, Oak is averaging just 7.4 points per game and barely over 5 rebounds per game. Those are numbers you'd expect a backup center playing ten-fifteen minutes a night to put up, not your starter. In addition, Oak's averaging 2 turnovers and almost 5 fouls per game while constantly getting pushed around by Andrew Bynum. Oak has had his moments- he looked great on defense and the offensive glass in game 4, but they've really been few and far between. For the Hornets to win tonight, Oak needs to provide some offensive value (say, 12 points or so) and keep Bynum from dominating us on the defensive end.
2) Marco Polo
Marco Belineli finally decided to show up in game 5, scoring 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting. The problem with the Hornets all series has been no one not named Chris Paul (and, to some extent, Trevor Ariza) have been able to generate offense, which allows the Lakers to throw double and triple teams CP's way. When Marco hits his shots, it opens up the floor for everyone and really takes the team to a different level offensively.
3) Don't be a hero, Ariza
Look, Ariza's been great this series, and his showing in the first half of game 4 and first quarter of game 5 single handedly kept the Hornets in the games. But there's a darkside to his performance- when Ariza gets hot, he starts putting up "hero" shots... contested jumpers with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, 3 pointers where he hasn't set his feet, turnaround fadeaways that no player on earth can make, etc. Ariza has one skill on the offensive end- driving, slashing, and getting to the hoop. He is a TERRIBLE shooter. Sure, he might get hot sometimes, but on the whole, when Ariza puts up a jump shot, the other team thanks their lucky stars. Ariza needs to stay aggressive on both ends for the entire game and not settle for jump shots.
4) Where's Willie
Willie Green is, admittedly, not my favorite player. Ok, he's my least favorite player on the team by far. But he won several games for the Hornets this year by getting aggressive, ignoring his limitations, and putting the Hornets offense on his back. He's been largely invisible so far this series. The Lakers bench destroyed the Hornets bench in game 5. For that trend to reverse, Willie Green needs to bring his A game.
5) Shut down Ron Artest
The road to beating the Lakers is simple- let Kobe Bryant get his, don't let their three bigs obliterate you, and shut everyone else down. So far this series, Ron Artest has been the only consistent scorer for the Lakers. Has averaging over 13 points and 5 boards per game (versus regular season averages of 8.5 and 3.3), and it seems he beats Beli for an offensive rebound and put back once a half. The man is truly a hulk and a horrible matchup for Beli and Willie, but for the Hornets to win, we need to stop the Lakers role players from beating us, and it starts with stopped Ron-Ron.
The Lakers are six point favorites. I was in the Hive Sunday night. The building was electric, and the crowd pushed the team to another level. Sure, CP3 willed the Hornets to that victory, but the crowd was a major factor in that. If this game was on a neutral court, I'd pick the Lakers -12 given the beat down they put on the Hornets in game 5. But it's not. It's in our house, in the Hive, and every Hornet player is going to take it to another level tonight. I just can't see a team as disinterested as the Lakers have appeared at times this series contending with the energy level the Hornets are going to bring... that, and the 5 first half three Beli is about to drop on them.
Hornets 97, Lakers 94