Five Thoughts: Lakers beat the Hornets 98-80 to close out their first round series

- The Hornets go quietly into the night

Remember Game 4 on Easter Sunday? The Hornets and their crowd brought enough energy, confidence, and determination to beat the Lakers in a close game. Less than a week later, the Hornets played like they knew they were going to be beaten, like they had already accepted that the series would end. Chris Paul, Carl Landry, and Trevor Ariza, the lifeblood and energy feeders for this Hornets team, all had lackluster performances.

[caption id="attachment_29" align="alignleft" width="235" caption="Kobe quiets the Hornets crowd"][/caption]

Maybe it was the impressive Game 5 performance by the Lakers, where Kobe Bryant flashed back to his afro days and layed down a couple vicious dunks to energize the crowd and the Lakers themselves. They could’ve been rattled, and given up hope that they could win another game. Or maybe it was the wearing down of the Hornets front court, undermanned with the loss of David West and undersized all series. Giving up enough offensive rebounds and put-backs can have an effect on your psyche. Chris Paul could’ve also been worn down, having to deal with bigger, more physical defenders and getting pushed or elbowed in the face at nearly every turn.

Whatever the case may be, the Hornets seemed to give up. All series, Chris Paul could seemingly go around a screen and hit a mid-range jumper at will. His scoring was a vital part for keeping the Hornets close or beating the Lakers all series. His performance in Game 6 summed up the night for the Hornets. 80 points scored is just not going to get it done against the Lakers.

- Chris Paul auditioning for the Lakers?

There are many in the basketball community who felt that Chris Paul was essentially “auditioning” for the Lakers during this series. Despite his Game 6 performance, CP3 showed why he is one of, if not the best point guard in the NBA. His quickness on both sides of the ball, shooting ability, and his effectiveness passing the ball and getting everyone involved, will make him one of the top free agents when his contract ends after next season.

Paul’s friendship with Kobe, his desire to win a championship, and the Lakers eventual need to replace Derek Fisher, make for the perfect storm of fan zealotry. Laker fans are nearly foaming at the mouth with the chance to sign Chris Paul, if not for the sheer fact that the Lakers wouldn’t have to face him anymore.

The more important aspect is whether or not Paul will fit with what the Lakers will try to do following the retirement of Phil Jackson. If the Lakers hire either of the top two candidates, Brian Shaw or Kurt Rambis, they will most likely continue to run the triangle. Traditionally, a traditional point guard has not been a priority in a triangle offense. None of Phil Jackson’s championship teams have needed an All-Star point guard, and usually favor a bigger player at the position because they need to be able to give good entry passes. Phil Jackson’s success with the triangle has come down to the play of the big men inside, outside shooting when the inside is taken away, and someone who can create his own shot when all that fails.

Relegating Chris Paul to entry passes, baseline cuts, and hitting the open 3 when Bynum/Pau gets doubled, would seriously negate a large portion of his talents. Even given his defensive quickness and propensity for steals, he’s a smaller point guard who can be taken somewhat easily on the low post. The Lakers experimented with Gary Payton before, which didn’t exactly turn out well for either party. Not even talking about the fact that his defensive ability had severely diminished, he was essentially a non-factor on offense. He had previously flourished in a faster-paced system and through the use of a screen-and-roll offense. It worries me that Chris Paul might find himself in a similar situation if he signs with the Lakers after next season.

Of course, the Lakers could go in a completely different direction after Phil retires and abandon the triangle. In which case, yes, signing one of the best point guards in the NBA to replace Derek Fisher is a great idea.

- Phil Jackson has fans yelling at TV in the 4th quarter

Phil Jackson has unconventional coaching methods (e.g. meditations before games), unconventional answers to media questions (no “coach speak” necessary), and unconventional in-game strategies (e.g. not calling time outs during an opponents offensive runs).

He also really likes his substitution patterns. The starters play nearly the entire 1st quarter, then 4 bench players come in with Bynum, and play until about midway through the 2nd quarter (with Pau subbing back in for Bynum a little earlier). The starters come back in after that with Odom staying on instead of Bynum to close the half out, and this process somewhat repeats itself for the second half.

You will notice that if someone gets 2 fouls really early in the game, instead of subbing one of the 4 bench players in early (Brown, Barnes, Odom, or Blake), he’ll go deep down the roster and put in someone like Luke Walton, in order to keep the substitution pattern in tact.

So when the Lakers have an 18 point lead midway through the 4th quarter of last night’s game and Jackson puts the starters, including Kobe, back into the game, it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise. What it does do, is get every Laker fan, including myself, off of their couch to yell at the TV to get Kobe out of the game. An 18 point lead should be insurmountable with six minutes to go, and being the last game of the series, things could get chippy. Kobe took an inevitable elbow to the back of the head, but thankfully escaped unharmed.

We might see this again in the future though so prepare yourself, because getting inside the mind of the Zen Master is a fruitless effort.

- Andrew Bynum is the key

Laker fans, writers, bloggers, etc. can analyze this team in nearly an infinite number of ways. The majority of that analysis nowadays seems to center around their center, Andrew Bynum. It wasn’t but a few months ago that many in Laker Nation were willing to trade Bynum for Carmelo Anthony. His injury-plagued past is a concern for many, but his importance to the Lakers when healthy is undeniable, especially with the poor play of Pau Gasol.

In looking down the playoff road, his play in each potential series will hold the key for the Lakers success. Against the Mavericks, Bynum can get Brendan Heyward into foul trouble, and then punish Tyson Chandler offensively when he has to switch over to guarding Bynum. This will also create an opportunity for Pau to have a smaller defender on him. Against the Thunder, Bynum will have his hands full with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. More importantly though, Bynum will need to be a shot-blocking presence around the rim for an attacking Russell Westbrook.

Looking even further down the road, Bynum will be a major factor in playoff matchups against the Heat, Celtics, and Bulls. Against the Heat, he can take whoever is guarding him to task offensively. Against the Celtics, he can be even more of a factor offensively without Perkins there to guard him. And finally, the Bulls have absolutely no one to guard Bynum’s size, not to mention the fact that Bynum will be vital is curbing the ability of Derrick Rose to get to the hoop.

Obviously the Lakers have proven that they can win with either with a severely hampered Andrew Bynum, or without him at all. But when healthy, Bynum’s play on both sides of the ball is one of the top keys in each of their potential playoff series.

- Crowd T-shirts

Who decided that every NBA playoff game should come with a t-shirt now? Turn on any 2011 playoff game, and you will see the entire crowd decked out in the same color t-shirt, with some catchy slogan on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fan coordination. But it’s much more satisfying when the fans take it upon themselves to put it all together, not just put on a t-shirt that was lying on your chair when you got to the stadium. Plus, how terrible do those people in the first few rows look sometimes with their new shirt completely over the suit/dress they wore to the game?

Even the Lakers have done this in the past, although you would never know it by watching the game on TV because the people in the 100 level seats are too cool to put on that stupid shirt over their Armani suit or Gucci dress.

[caption id="attachment_27" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Hornets fans can throw these away, immediately."][/caption]

To make matters worse, the Hornets decided to go with a blue t-shirt for Game 6 that read “Beat LA” on the front. I’ll spare you my hatred for “Beat LA” at the moment, but didn’t the Hornets just waste a ton of money? No one is going to wear a shirt that says “Beat LA” on it, when you lost the game and the series. At least if it was a generic “Go Hornets” shirt, it could be worn again in the future.

I wonder how many of those blue shirts were in the trash cans on the way out of the stadium. Can we please do away with this shirt trend?

-Mark Slattery Writer

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