New Orleans Hornets vs. L.A. Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for L.A.
The Los Angeles Lakers played host to the New Orleans Hornets Tuesday night, and while it was too close for comfort late, the home team pulled out a gutsy 110-104 win.
L.A. entered the contest playing some of the best basketball of the 2012-13 season. They were coming off back-to-back wins against playoff opponents in the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, and they had gotten brilliantly selfless performances from Kobe Bryant.
While everybody has wanted to talk about Bryant's assists, the entire Lakers team came out moving the ball in this one. They were swinging the ball from side to side, they were looking down low to Dwight Howard, and they recorded 13 assists on their first 15 baskets.
As good as the Lakers were offensively, they allowed New Orleans to be nearly as effective early. They led by just one after the first period, and it wouldn’t be until the bench took over that L.A. would finally establish momentum. The Hornets began to slip at the start of the second, L.A. went on a quick 17-0 run, and they ended up taking a 12-point lead into halftime.
The second half began in similar fashion, but the script would be flipped before it was all said and done. New Orleans came storming back to make things interesting, and a 20-4 run brought them within one point at the two-minute mark of the final period.
But it was once again ball movement and open looks that got the Lakers their 20th win of the season.
This was the third game in a row where we saw L.A. stick with what works, and while three games is an extremely small sample size, you have to believe that the team is beginning to understand how they have to play moving forward.
Point Guard: Steve Nash
We all know that Steve Nash is a liability on defense, but that fact became even more apparent in the opening minutes against the Hornets.
Going up against Greivis Vasquez, Nash allowed his fellow point guard to make plays early. Vasquez was never a primary option as a scorer, but every time he beat Nash off the dribble, he took advantage of poor rotations.
Where you really hope Nash will make a difference is on the offensive end, and he played a fairly efficient game in that department.
He never stood out—aside from his huge three-pointer in the fourth quarter—as Kobe Bryant was the one who primarily had the ball in his hands. But as someone who can make open shots, Nash will always be a weapon.
The Lakers' starting point guard finished with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting (3-of-4 from long range) and five assists.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has been the talk of the league with his play of late, and that talk should continue following this latest win.
Entering the season, most people wondered if Bryant would be able to sacrifice his shots for the team's success. It didn't look like that would be the case for a while, but if the last three games are any indication, it appears he knows what has to happen.
Against New Orleans, Bryant took just 12 shots. The problem with that number is that he never established himself offensively when the team was on the wrong side of a 20-4 run, as he finished with just 14 points.
It's a bit unfair to credit Bryant with limiting his shots while at the same time discrediting him for not scoring, but in a game like this one, he has to be able to take over if his team needs the ball in the bucket.
That being said, even when he wasn't scoring, he was impacting the game in other areas. He had eight rebounds and 11 assists while turning the ball over just two times.
Small Forward: Metta World Peace
Metta World Peace has become something of a designated spot-up shooter for the Lakers, which is exactly what they need alongside the stars.
The problem with that role comes when he is missing his shots, which was the situation Tuesday night.
Through the first three quarters, World Peace had just three points on 1-of-8 shooting. He had made just one of six three-pointers, and he was hardly worthy of defensive attention throughout the contest.
That stat line of his would never change, as he logged just 23 minutes on the night.
The Lakers don't want World Peace to stop shooting, as he has to be a threat if they want to look inside. But if he's going to be missing shots at such a high rate, it's better to turn to the reserves on the bench.
Power Forward: Earl Clark
Earl Clark continues to play extremely well as Los Angeles' starting power forward. Nobody expected Clark to be a regular in the starting lineup before the season began, but Clark makes the hustle plays necessary to keep possessions alive, and can also be counted on to score.
He had eight points and six rebounds in the first half alone, and he was once again scrapping both at the rim and out on the perimeter.
Clark finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and the only real critique of his performance comes from his six turnovers. He's not used to controlling the ball as much as he has lately, but as long as he's lightening the load for the stars around him, he's filling his role nicely.
That role versus New Orleans was that of an outside shooter. His 4-of-5 shooting from behind the arc is a big reason Dwight Howard ended up with consistent one-on-one coverage throughout the contest.
Center: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard came into this game and was looking to score from the beginning. He drained six of his first eight shots, scored 17 points and managed to knock down 5-of-6 from the foul line all before halftime.
From an offensive standpoint, you like to see Howard looking to score, but what you like to see even more is his teammates deferring. From the opening minutes, Kobe and the rest of the starters were looking Howard's way, and the big man was able to take full advantage.
Howard was also getting things done on defense, which is why his lack of rebounding (four) was so perplexing. He had two blocks and three steals in the first two quarters, but just one rebound heading into the third.
The big man played with good energy on both sides of the floor, which is how he ended up with 24 points, four blocks and five steals, but that rebounding number has to be higher for him to round out this kind of performance.
Sixth Man: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol may not be thrilled with his role off the bench, but the big man has had some decent showings since becoming the backup to Earl Clark.
Against the Hornets, Gasol never got involved in the scoring department. He finished just 1-of-4 from the floor and tallied just seven points in 21 minutes. That being said, he contributed in other areas, which is something we weren't seeing early in the season.
Gasol was able to get to the line eight times in this one, and he made five of them despite entering the game on a cold streak. He also managed to pull down seven rebounds and pick up seven assists along the way.
If he can at least continue putting together balanced performances, he's going to be a valuable piece of the puzzle the rest of the year. Part of the reason he's on the bench is because he wasn't producing when he wasn't scoring, so rebounding and passing well are huge steps in the right direction.
The Lakers bench was going up against a solid second unit Tuesday night, but they managed to score 12 points before the Hornets reserves was even able to get on the board.
As well as the Laker starters played early in this game, it was the bench players who sparked the quick 17-0 run in the second quarter. In fact, every L.A. reserve finished with a plus/minus of 10 or higher, while nobody in the starting lineup finished a number better than negative-three.
This team got big-time performances from Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. Jamison put together a 16-point, seven-rebound showing ,while Meeks dropped 13 points and grabbed two steals.
These two players, along with the production of Pau Gasol, are the biggest reasons Los Angeles effectively grabbed momentum at different points in the contest. Without the big runs, this game looks much different, and it's possible that the Lakers fail to grab their 20th win of the season.