Tonight's game pits the Hornets (42-31, 18-20 on the road) vs the two time defending champ Lakers (52-20, 27-8 at home). This game marks the conclusion of the Hornets 3 game road trip. They've already won their first two games, against the Suns and Jazz, and in doing so all but guaranteed themselves a playoff spot. However, tonight's game is the most interesting for the Hornets fan- if the season ended today, the Hornets would have the 7th seed and the Lakers the 2 seed and the two teams would be matched up in the first round. As we've been saying for weeks, the Lakers are probably the worst matchup in the league for the Hornets and this is a match up we'd like to avoid at all costs. The Hornets have already lost their first three meeting against the Lakers, and a win tonight would actually go a big way to getting the Hornet's the sixth seed and avoiding the Lake show in the first round, so let's hope for a W tonight!
Chris Paul vs the Lakers' black hole PG position
As I note every time the Hornets play the Lakers, their one weakness is their PG position, where Steve Blake, a washed up Derek Fisher (actually, not necessarily washed up. I don't think he was ever that great to begin with, but he's WAAAAAY past his prime now), and Shannon Brown consist of the proverbial poo-poo platter. They have trouble guarding any pont guards, but specifically quick, penetrating point guards. CP3 is averaging almost 18 points and 11 assist per game in the Hornets 3 games against the Lakers so far this year, but for the Hornets to stand a chance, he really needs to do even more than that (in other words, he basically needs to be a super hero). CP3 had 21 and 15 in the last meeting between the two teams, but no steals. If he can put up similar numbers but add three or four steals, the Hornets will have a chance to pull this off.
Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, Jason Smith, and Aaron Gray vs Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom
Forget Kobe. These three are the reason the Lakers have won three Western Conferences in a row. Three legit seven footers who all complement each other well (Odom can play from the perimeter, Gasol is more a skillful "finese" inside player who is probably the most efficient scoring post presence in the game, and Bynum is just a pure behemoth who dominates with his size and brings the Lakers' D to another level). The Hornets already had trouble containing them, but without West, the Hornets big men will likely be over matched by the Lakers' size. It will take a Herculean effort by the Hornets big men to contain the Lakers big three. Keep an eye on Oak- his really undersized compared to the Lakers big men, and he's also foul prone. If he's on his A game and can avoid getting into foul trouble, he might be able to limit the Lakers' big men and give the Hornets a chance to pull this one out.
The Lakers are nine point favorites. Maybe I'm being a bit too pessimistic, but at the end of a three game road trip with no DWest. DWest averaged almost 16 points and almost 10 boards per game in the Hornets three games against the Lakers this year. I just don't see the Hornets other big guys making up that type of output, and without the the Hornets can pull this one off. Lay the points.
Lakers 99, Hornets 89