Sunday, April 17, 2011

Don't Panic: Hornets-Lakers

There might be some panic caused by the Hornets upsetting the Lakers, but honestly I wouldn’t bother as of this moment. These things happen all the time and usually the favored team repays the favor four times over.

The reason to believe in the Hornets starts with Chris Paul, who played puppet master for the critical stretches of the game. His athleticism is mostly gone, but he’s got just enough speed and more than enough cleverness to exploit the Lakers, whose weakness to quality point guards has to be legendary at this point. On one hand, is it implausible that Paul could vaporize the Lakers three or four more times? If Derek Fisher is guarding Paul, it is. Consider that Russell Westbrook destroyed the Lakers through the first four games of the Thunder series by scoring 21.75 pts while never shooting lower than 50%. Chris Paul now is a better player than Westbrook was then and the Lakers are worse this year than they were last year.

But the sentence that’s doing a lot of work in the preceding paragraph is: “If Derek Fisher is guarding Paul, it is.” The Lakers put Kobe Bryant on Paul occasionally during the latter stages of the fourth quarter yesterday, and I assume this strategy will be used more frequently as we progress through the series. In fact, I assume this strategy will become very productive as, if there’s anything angry Kobe is good for, it’s stick-to-your-hip defense. One of the forgotten elements of the Thunder series last year was that Kobe had a minor knee procedure between games four and five. Before the procedure, he was remarkably ineffective; afterwards, he was so effective he carried the Lakers on offense while containing Russell Westbrook. Kobe seems much more healthy this year than he was at the same time last year, so that won’t be a drag on his production on both sides of the floor.

So appreciate the game and the performance on its own: Chris Paul was the boss of the game, and there was a bit of sadness mixed in with the pleasure. Paul relies on his cleverness and ability to stretch the play because he doesn’t have the athleticism and first step to just slice through his opposition; he lost it to a knee injury. It’s an unfortunate reminder that Paul could be much better than he is, through no fault of his own. Too bad: hope he gives us more.

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