Things to watch in Lakers-Hornets matchup
1. How will Lamar Odom respond with his sore left shoulder?
Both Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Odom expect he will play tonight against the Hornets at Staples Center, but it remains unclear how exactly Odom's left shoulder is going to affect his play.
He joked he's going to have to go right more, a dig at his own penchant for rarely ever using his weak hand. He refused to lift up his shoulder after insisting to a reporter he could. And Jackson expected that Odom's injury will affect his shooting stroke, meaning his 57% shooting rate might go down.
If that proves to be the case, Odom will have to adjust his game, but his versatile skill-set will help him do that. Perhaps instead of going for coast-to-coast drives, he'll instead set up a teammate. Perhaps instead of posting up and exposing himself to more contact on his shoulder, he'll direct the offense from up top. Or perhaps his shoulder won't be an issue at all. It's something the team and fans will watch unfold.
2. The Lakers have enjoyed their size advantage since Andrew Bynum's return, but that doesn't mean there's not issues.
Yes, the Lakers are 4-1 since Bynum has returned and the Lakers have enjoyed a 42-13 mark when he and Pau Gasol play side by side. The Lakers also enjoyed 46 points in the paint in their last outing against New Orleans -- a 103-88 victory Dec. 29 against the Hornets in an effort that exhibited plenty of ball movement and plenty of production from the Lakers' front line with a lopsided advantage in points in the paint (46-30) and rebounding (44-24).
The Lakers are benefitting from Bynum's tangible improvement in conditioning, jumping, defensive movement and post presence as well as Odom's seamless transition and willingness to play off the bench, his vow that he'll play through his shoulder injury for now and that he'll ensure his new reality show won't inhibit his strong production. But Gasol's play has dropped significantly within the last month, a head-scratcher for someone who has usually been so consistent for the Lakers.
It also points to Gasol appearing to feel overwhelmed in many facets of the game. Defenders are playing physical with him and he's shying away from that contact. He's passively going through the motions in setting himself up in the lane. He's continuing to view defense as a chore than a necessity. And even if Jackson and Gasol contend otherwise, he still appears tired. Usually the conversation regarding the Lakers' front line entailed why Bynum couldn't feel as effective playing with Gasol. Now it's the other way around.
3. New Orleans may switch their lineup
Two days after the Hornets blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Golden State Warriors, Hornets Coach Monty Williams told The Times-Picayune's John Reid that he is considering a change in the team's rotation. That would entail playing guard Chris Paul and forward David West at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters so that the Lakers can't enjoy spurring off to a significant run. Although Jackson generally sees lineup changes possibly helping the Lakers because it takes opposing teams out of their comfort zone, it might invariably prompt Jackson to change his rotation.
Normally, the Lakers reserves begin the second and fourth quarters as well so the starters can remain fresh to close off the first half and end of the game. This will either require Jackson taking a leap of faith in his bench or requiring heavier minutes from his starters.
4. Can the Lakers still keep the turnovers low?
The Lakers managing to beat New Orleans and show effectiveness on offense despite committing 20 turnovers should be seen as the exception to the rule. The Lakers have averaged 14.9 turnovers at home and 13.2 on the road, though that number has dropped in the last two games against Detroit (six) and Phoenix (10). Just as the Lakers' two-game winning streak should be viewed with a shrug, so should the Lakers' recent trend in cutting down on throwing the ball away. The Lakers committed 20 turnovers in their embarrassing loss Sunday to Memphis, concluding a stretch where the team averaged 17.5 turnovers in four games. It's not exactly a thing the Lakers want to accomplish against a team that ranks fifth in total defense, features the NBA's league leader in steals (Paul averages three a game) and ranks second in defensive rebounding, even if the Lakers have gotten away with it already.
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Photo: Hornets point guard Chris Paul talks with Coach Monty Williams during a 103-88 loss to the Lakers last week. Credit: Derick E. Hingle / US Presswire