Hornets Win Playing Shoot and Dare
Unable to hit a shot from the outside, the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the New Orleans Hornets, 108-100 at New Orleans Arena. The Hornets were led by Chris Paul (15 points, 13 assists, 1 steal) and David West (20 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist) but it was their bench that propelled them to the stunning win over the defending world champs. Darren Collison (17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) picked apart the Lakers with his penetration drives and combined with Paul to dizzy their opponents. James Posey (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) turned back the clock and looked like the Posey of old, when he helped the Celtics to their 2008 NBA title. Los Angeles was led by Kobe Bryant (31 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal) and Pau Gasol (26 points, 22 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots) but they got very little help from anyone else. Rookie Marcus Thornton (18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) added to the Lakers backcourt misery, hitting timely shots as Kobe tried to help on the pesky point guards driving through the lane.
The Lakers started well enough, taking a 21-17 lead at the 2:43 mark in the 1st quarter after a Gasol dunk. But the Hornets would outscore the Lakers, 10-1 the rest of the way to take a 27-22 advantage heading into the 2nd quarter. The Hornets would connect on four three-pointers in the opening stanza while the Lakers would miss on all five of their attempts. Their shooting woes from deep would continue throughout the contest as the Hornets began sagging and double-teaming the ball whenever it was kicked into the post. The Lakers moved the ball well from the inside-out, but the designated shooters on the squad all came up short. Ron Artest (14 points on 6-14, 1-8 from deep, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals), Lamar Odom (10 points on 3-13, 1-3, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) and Derek Fisher (7 points on 3-11, 1-7, 3 assists, 1 rebound) were unable to capitalize on the open looks they got. And as Kobe and Pau continued to find their open teammates on the perimeter, they continued to clang away, right into the hands of the surging Hornets. The Lakers were able to stay within striking distance behind Gasol and Kobe, but the Hornets appeared at ease allowing the pair to score while everyone else shot miserably. It was like the Lakers were shooting themselves out of the game as the Hornets took a 10-point lead into halftime.
The third quarter brought more of the same as the Lakers struggled to find any consistency from outside. And the more the Lakers clanked, the more the Hornets obliged and sat in the paint, daring them to score from outside. New Orleans would take a commanding 17-point lead into the fourth quarter as Phil Jackson searched for any combination of players who could execute the offense and hit an open shot. Frustration also started seeping into the time-outs as a visibly irate Kobe railed into his teammates demanding for a better effort. The Lakers managed an abbreviated run, cutting the lead down to 87-81 with 5:41 left to go. But New Orleans continued to make key shots and free throws as the Lakers were unable to execute down the stretch. They would get no closer than 89-84 as the Hornets put the game away by making 12-14 free throws to hand the Lakers their second loss on their five-game trip. The bench was outscored 42-12 and in large part were ineffective as PJ chose to go with his starters for the majority of the contest. They shot 7-29 from behind the arc (24.1%) while New Orleans connected on 10-24 (43.5%).
dEDGE Post Scriptum
I’m not quite sure if this game was a hiccup or a continued trend of recent poor play. The Lakers had every opportunity to steal this game, yet came up short when it counted the most. Sometimes the shots just don’t fall, but uninspired play for the first three quarters is a problem. Sasha is obviously in the doghouse. His offense would have been a good lift for the team tonight, but Phil ultimately decided that he is not ready to be inserted into a game just yet. This was the first time that I saw Kobe go off on his teammates for failing to execute. Perhaps his frustration is mounting as well, as he is always expected to carry the team whenever things go south. And although he has done so countless times in the past, I’m sure he is aware that he alone cannot win another championship. The team should be playing at a higher level now, but instead, look to be regressing into a non-contender. Is it malaise? Apathy? Boredom? Whatever they are suffering from, the Lakers need to refocus immediately, or this post-season will be a short and uneventful one. Ultimately, there’s no need to panic just yet, but like Kobe illustrated tonight, it is time to get a little pissed off.