The Lakers' quest for its second 3-peat in a decade is in serious jeopardy.
Although the Lakers managed to take Game 2 and go back to New Orleans with the series tied, the Hornets have shown the rest of the league that the Lakers are extremely vulnerable.
Many NBA experts saw the Hornets as the weakest playoff team in the Western Conference, and many predicted the Lakers to cruise past New Orleans in no more than five games.
If the Lakers want to prove that they are still a serious championship contender, they have to step up their game.
The Lakers went 4-0 against the Hornets this season, and David West played in all four of them. The Hornets are not only giving the Lakers everything they have, they are doing it without their number two scorer.
With West out, it would seem like Pau Gasol could have a field day on both sides of the floor. But the big Spaniard has yet to show up this series.
In Game 1, Gasol had just eight points and six rebounds on 2-9 shooting. In Game 2, he managed eight points and five boards, going just 2-10 from the floor.
Gasol, notorious for his inconsistent play in road games, will have to nearly double his output from the first two games if the Lakers want to at least earn a split in New Orleans. Not only is Gasol's lack of intensity noticeable, but the Lakers seemed to lack their usual aggressiveness in Game 2.
For a team with so many big men and dynamic scorers (and playing in the building where they tend to get so many questionable calls), the Lakers managed just 22 free throw attempts, compared to 32 for the visiting Hornets, and that includes the fouls that New Orleans committed to prolong the game.
Kobe Bryant shot just 3-10 in Game 2, and while Bryant has had many playoff games with a poor shooting percentage, he usually makes up for it at the charity stripe. But in Game 2, Kobe was just 5-8 from the free throw line, finishing with only 11 points.
For a team that was written off when the Playoffs began, the Hornets have given hope to the rest of the Western Conference teams that could meet the Lakers, assuming they advance.
While the Lakers are a combined 5-2 against the Mavericks and Blazers this season (the two teams LA could see in round 2), Portland regularly gives the Lakers a hard time, especially in the Rose Garden.
And if the Lakers are struggling inside with the Hornets' front line, think what Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood could do defensively against Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
If teams want to compete with the two-time defending champions, it is vital that you don't psych yourself out. The Lakers won 57 games this year, an impressive number until you realize that no other team in the Pacific Division made the playoffs this year, giving the Lakers a huge number of games against subpar competition.
And although teams such as the Suns and Warriors play an up-tempo game, against the Lakers it becomes analogous to a parent chasing his five-year-old son. He'll tire you out for awhile, but eventually, you'll catch him.
This Laker team is more beatable than those of the past two seasons. If the Hornets can extend this series to six or seven games (assuming they don't win), then the Lakers will be exhausted heading into round two against a more formidable, and healthier opponent.
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