By John Carroll
Why do the Lakers continuously do this to themselves? That is the question that their fans probably are repeating over and over after Game 1. The Lakers were a dominant team back in the day with Shaq and Kobe. They could handle a listless playoff loss and always had an answer for it. However this Laker team is playing with fire. This is not the same Laker team as the Shaq and Kobe team. And this Laker team is not even the same one that won a championship last year. The Lakers are only in 3-9 in playoff series when they lose Game 1 and they better be very careful this year because they are not playing particularly well right now and their margin for error is very slim. If they do not come out on Wednesday night with a tremendous sense of urgency they will be in for a long series.
The New Orleans Hornets are playing without their second best player in David West, but they have Chris Paul and he can beat the Lakers single-handedly if they do not wake up.
Game 2 Adjustments
Chris Paul ripped apart the Lakers defense. He single-handedly made them look silly. He scored 33 points on 11-18 shooting from the field while getting to the free throw line 12 times. He also chipped in with 14 assists. However his real impact is that everyone in the building knows that he will have the ball in his hands late in the game and that he is going to make the big shot or big play and the Lakers can do nothing about it. That is the greatness of Chris Paul. The Lakers must do something to correct that quickly or they will be in big trouble. Their inability to keep Paul from getting to the rim is sad. With Gasol and Bynum manning the paint Chris Paul should not be as effective as he was in Game 1. The two Lakers bigs must protect the paint, give support to their teammates defending Paul and step up to his drives to the rim. They must not let him get easy looks. They must help, block his shots or if all else fails knock him down and put him to the line.
In addition the Lakers must drastically improve their pick and roll defense on Chris Paul in Game 2. They were lazy and ineffective guarding the pick and rolls in Game 1. They switched pick and rolls at least eight times in the game including two late in the game with Pau Gasol. Switching pick and rolls is the lazy way out and it usually leads to bad results. Switching should be utilized only for same size players or very late in the shot clock. When players like Chris Paul see Pau Gasol switching onto to him on a pick and roll his eyes light up. The Lakers need to stop switching the Hornets pick and rolls and find a more effective way to defend Chris Paul. The Indiana Pacers are dealing with the same issues in their series with Derrick Rose and have found much better ways for their bigs to help and protect Rose turning the corner at will. The Lakers must do the same thing in their series with Paul.
Phil Jackson and the Lakers need Pau Gasol to show up in Game 2. He was non-existent in Game 1. Gasol scored 8 points on 2-9 shooting from the field. In addition he had 6 rebounds. Gasol was average at best on defense and had no impact on this game. This is the type of playoff performance that gets Pau in trouble. The word soft creeps into the discussion. When you are a player of his stature and it gets to playoff time you cannot have these types of performances. Everyone is entitled to a bad game, but unfortunately for Pau it does not help the opinion people have about his game and his mental toughness. He needs to step up his efforts in Game 2.
The biggest difference in Game 1 was the bench. The Hornets bench outplayed the Laker bench by outscoring them 39-21. The Hornet bench went 16-22 from the field shooting 72.7 %. Jarret Jack and Aaron Gray were the keys for the Hornet bench. Jack scored 15 points and Gray 12 points. In his 20 minutes on the court, Gray was a +25 for the Hornets. He may have been one of the biggest reasons the Hornets pulled off this upset win because Emeka Okafor their starting center was very unimpressive scoring only 4 points in 22 minutes before fouling out. Gray got hurt late in the game and it will be noteworthy to see if he will be able to play in Game 2 after being such a big factor in Game 1.
The Hornets won the turnover game in Game 1, tying the NBA record for fewest turnovers with only 3 for the game. Meanwhile the Lakers turned it over 13 times. The ball is in Chris Paul’s hands all game for the Hornets, he had 2 turnovers and the rest of the team had only 1. If the Hornets can continue to take care of the ball like that in Game 2 they are going to put a lot of pressure on the Lakers. When you get up 79 shots and are shooting almost 52% from the field and only turn it over 3 times you are going to make it hard on your opponent.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 2