What a season. The Lakers finished the season with 57 wins, the second best record in the West, and fourth best overall. They are fighting for an unprecedented fourth straight trip to the Finals, and third straight championship, yet many aren't supporting them as this year's favorites.
Maybe people are just tired of the same old thing. It happens to everyone who stays on top for so long. People want something fresh, something new. People who can't support their own team that is. This year, that team is the Bulls, or the Thunder, maybe the Mavericks or the Spurs.
The Finals match-up I really want is Lakers/Celtics, and if I can't get that, I'll settle for handling the Heat. But before I can get excited for a potential three-peat, the Lakers have to get there. There has been a lot of drama this season, but one thing has been certain all year long: the Lakers have beaten the Hornets all four meetings by an average of 10.7 points.
Here are some of the things I'm going to be looking out for in this series, not so much just for this series, but things that I would like the Lakers to establish in this series and take forward through the rest of the post-season.
Who will be on the court for the Lakers when the game is on the line? Will it be Drew and Pau? Will Ron be on the floor? You know three of the guys who will be on the court: Pau, Fisher and Kobe. But will Phil opt to play Barnes instead of Ron? Lamar instead of Ron? Or Lamar instead of Andrew?
Too much talent can sometimes be a problem, and this is one of those situations. Sure, you can never have too much talent, but its also nice to have that late game chemistry. The way Drew has been playing since the break, you would have to think he will be out there in the crunch time situations. Then you think about how well Lamar has been playing all year long, his ability to break down opposing four's from the perimeter, and his passing expertise, and you think...he's got to be on the floor.
We know that Lamar, Drew and Pau on the court at the same time doesn't work, meaning that its either Drew or Lamar. It really is a tough call, and I have no idea what they will do. In terms of Ron, I just wish he would hit the open corner three, because if he could, there would be no question that he'd be on the court during crunch-time. He is our best lock-down defender, and I think that alone may keep him on the court down the stretch.
The Lakers have struggled with turnovers all year long, and I think it ties into their lackadaisical play. When they have dug in and played really focused basketball, they have taken care of the ball and played good defense. I really want to see them take care of the ball in this series against the Hornets, because when it comes time to beat the Thunder, Spurs, Bulls/Celtics/Heat, they won't be able to afford giving the other team free possessions.
Something else Los Angeles tends to do is settle for long jumpers. With the players they have at their disposal, there should be no reason that they don't pound the ball inside all game. If they establish an inside game early, it only opens things up for guys like Fisher, Barnes, Blake and Brown to hit those wide open threes. Against the Hornets, this is a real big advantage, so I would love to see them exploit it in this series.
Last but not least I would love to see Kobe get the team involved first and take over only when needed. Get the ball into Pau, Drew and Lamar, take your open jumpers when needed, and close out quarters by driving to the hoop and making FTs. Something that people tend to always blame on Kobe is when he starts to really heat up, they accuse him of hogging the ball. Now, I'll be the first to admit that Kobe has forced his fair share of terrible shots over the years, but what people don't realize, is that when he really starts to heat up, his teammates just sit there and watch him. They forget that they're on his team too, and that they are in the game. When Kobe heats up, it is the premier time to move without the ball and get position, because teams really key in on Kobe. They send double, sometimes triple teams on him.
Everyone is aware of the Lakers inability to contain quick, agile, talented point guards. Fisher is a strong, in your face defender, but he's never been the fastest guy on the team. He can body guys up, and does a great job challenging shots. What I want to see is the Lakers help defense against Paul, especially with David West out for the series.
The Lakers' defense should really be able to key in on Paul. I'm sure he will still get 18/8, maybe even 22/9, but I don't want to see him just dominating games. The only way I'll be comfortable with him getting big numbers like that is if the Hornets are getting handled and he's doing everything he can just to keep the game respectable.
Prediction: Lakers in 5.
Also, check out my league wide first round breakdown here. If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please follow me on twitter (@rcbinyon), I interact with all my fans!
Robert C. Binyon is a third year student at UCLA, and also runs lasportsminute.com, his own personal blog.
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