One of the NBA's youngest teams, New Orleans is second-to-last in the Western Conference and has already lost to the Lakers twice this season.
This is a game that the Lakers should win handily, but let's not forget that they have been hot and cold all season long. Head coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense may be working as of late, but to say that it has been a big hit in the City of Angels would be a stretch. Instead of being strong contenders for a championship, the Lakers are fighting for a playoff spot despite having a star-studded roster.
That said, Wednesday night's game in New Orleans is a prime chance for the team to run away with a victory and get momentum back on their side. Defeat the young Hornets, and seeing the Lakers in the playoffs this year becomes a much more believable idea.
Time: Wednesday, March 6, 8 p.m. ET
TV: Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, Fox Sports New Orleans
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (30-31) vs. New Orleans Hornets (21-40)
Injuries (via ESPN): Jordan Hill (hip, out), Pau Gasol (foot, out), Kobe Bryant (elbow, day-to-day), Metta World Peace (ankle, day-to-day), Dwight Howard (shoulder, day-to-day), Jason Smith (shoulder, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Seek Big Win in Big Easy
The Lakers could use some momentum following a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 5, and a big win against the Hornets in New Orleans could provide them with plenty. The odds are in the Lakers' favor, as they have already defeated the team once this season.
The squads first faced off on Dec. 5 in New Orleans. Even though Ryan Anderson chipped in 31 points, the Hornets lost 103-87 and were the victims of 29 Kobe Bryant points, one of which was the 30,000th of his career.
Round 2 took place at the Staples Center on Jan. 29, and this game was a bit closer. The Hornets got 25 points from Eric Gordon, plus 15 points and 15 assists from Greivis Vasquez, but that wasn't enough to stop 24 points from Dwight Howard.
The scene has now shifted back to New Orleans, and the Hornets have proven that, when fully loaded, they can go toe-to-toe with the Lakers. However, their season is already lost and their remaining games will be all about playing spoiler.
The Lakers cannot let this happen and must use their fast-paced offense and collective experience to overwhelm young New Orleans. This game is theirs to lose, and they simply cannot afford to do so at this point in the season.
Key Matchup: Earl Clark vs. Anthony Davis
If New Orleans wants a shot at winning this game at all, it is going to need a solid game from rookie Anthony Davis. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 12.6 points, 7.6 boards and 1.8 blocks in his first season, and recently returned from a shoulder injury with a 17-point, 15-rebound performance against the Orlando Magic on March 4.
He still has a lot to learn, but is well on his way to becoming a top power forward in the league. He works the inside well and has a decent jump shot, and his ceiling is going to get even higher once he learns how to balance both out. Defensively, he has an incredibly bright future.
That said, Lakers power forward Earl Clark is going to have to step out of his comfort zone and trade in his stretch 4 sneakers for some that are built for defense. One of the keys to a Lakers victory is slowing down Davis, and that cannot happen without Clark.
The former Louisville Cardinal is averaging 8.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and has been a staple of Los Angeles' starting lineup since January. He has decent size for the position at 6'10", 225 pounds, and is unique in that he can both work under the basket while also pulling up for a three if left wide open.
While a good offensive performance is always important in D'Antoni's system, Clark needs to make defense his first priority tonight, as tough as that may be. He needs to do all he can to contain Davis and ensure a big win for the Lakers, or else watch his team fight and claw its way towards the end of a contest that should be Los Angeles' for the taking.
X-Factor: Steve Nash
Against a team as young as the Hornets, playmaking is the name of the game for a fast-paced team like the Lakers. This means that Steve Nash needs to be in top form, being both a scoring and passing threat.
The two-time MVP is averaging 12.3 points and 7.1 assists per game this season, and has continued to be an excellent shooter in making 51 percent of his shots from the field and 43 percent of his three-point attempts. Over his last five games, he has been even better.
Nash is averaging 16.2 points and six assists over that stretch, and is shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown. Needless to say, he needs to be that good and better against New Orleans on Wednesday night.
Nash must use his years of experience to take New Orleans to school, be it creating off the dribble or pulling up for a three. If he can, he must drive the lane and draw a foul. More importantly, he must be in full pass-first mode.
That attack could be enough to make life hard for the Hornets from the opening tip to the final buzzer, and Nash needs to be the man of the hour when the dust settles.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Earl Clark
C: Dwight Howard
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Robin Lopez
The Hornets gave the Lakers a game the last time the two teams faced off, but that's not going to happen on Wednesday. Los Angeles is going to be in full control from start to finish, with the team's key players fighting through nagging injuries to come together and blow out the opposition.
Pick your winner!
Bryant will have a fine scoring game, and also go into passing mode as well. Howard will have a double-double and show few signs of struggling in D'Antoni's system.
That isn't to say that the Hornets won't show flashes of potential here and there. Vasquez will have a decent game, as will Gordon.
Unfortunately, Davis' inability to show consistency on offense will hurt New Orleans, as his lack of certainty with his shots will not help at all. This game belongs to the Lakers, and the .500 winning percentage will be well-earned tonight.
Los Angeles Lakers 105, New Orleans Hornets 88