Chris Paul finally looked like the pre-injury Chris Paul and that was bad news for the Lakers. This was Paul's fourth game back after missing 25 due to a knee injury. His minutes had been capped in his first three outings as he struggled to find any sort of rhythm. But he found it against the Lakers. CP3 had 15 points and 13 assists as he led the Hornets to a 108-100 victory over the Lakers.
One of the biggest problems recently for the Lakers has been ball movement. Last night though, they had great ball movement much to their detriment. The Lakers moved the ball for open 3-pointers but hit just 7 of 29 from behind the arc. The biggest offenders were Derek Fisher who went 1 for 7 and Ron Artest who hit 1 of 8. Those two are going to be the biggest beneficiaries of ball movement and they must knock down those shots.
What was working was isolating their superstars. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant both had monster games. Bryant deferred at first and didn't hit a field goal until 5:44 remaining in the second quarter (just his second shot of the game). But Bryant finished with a game-high 31 points on a very efficient 10-18 shooting performance. He also added 5 rebounds and 6 assists - though should've had at least 10 if anyone on the Lakers could knock down a 3-pointer.
Gasol was big right from the start. He scored the Lakers' first 12 points and finished the first quarter with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. He finished the game hitting 11 of 21 shots for 26 points and 22 rebounds (tying a season-high). Gasol was being aggressive and demanding the ball in the post. When he didn't receive the ball off of a pass, he got it on the offensive glass. Gasol had 10 offensive rebounds he converted into 14 second chance points. The Hornets simply had no answer for Gasol.
Unfortunately, the Lakers had no answer for the speedy point guard play of Chris Paul and Darren Collison. Collison is now playing shooting guard when he and Paul are both in the lineup but for all intents and purposes they are both point guards. And the two guards combined for 32 points (11/20 shooting) and 16 assists. While the Hornets only had 13 "fastbreak points" it was their speed that accounted for the majority of buckets. Collison got to the rim at will and put in layups and Paul penetrated and kicked. When Paul kicked it out, the Hornets hit their shots. In contrast to the poor 3-point shooting by the Lakers, the Hornets hit 10 of 23 from behind the arc.
I wonder if Mitch Kupchak is wishing he'd made a stronger effort to acquire Kirk Hinrich. Clearly guard play is the biggest deficiency of this Laker team and their biggest obstacle in their hopes to repeat. But they are stuck with their roster and just have to hope Fisher and Farmar can elevate their games come playoff time.And if this loss wasn't bad enough, the Lakers got more bad news on Andrew Bynum's injury. He is now out of the walking boot but said, "I'm able to walk with minimal pain. I can't really walk very fast without feeling something. I'm just resting it, trying to stay off it as much as possible." Can't really WALK fast? He's now not expected back until at least April 8. This seems a lot like last year when they kept delaying when he would come back and what was initially a two week injury turned into a few months. Now the Lakers travel to Atlanta to play the Hawks on Wednesday. They will have their hands full with a team that is always looking to push the pace.