NBA 2K11 simulation predicts the Lakers will defeat the New Orleans Hornets in five games
All week long, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson weighed concerns on whether his team felt truly ready for the playoffs.
He never wavered from his belief that the Lakers have a great shot at three-peating, but Jackson had seen too many inconsistent patterns in play to form a definitive assessment. The Lakers' 17-1 mark after the All-Star break, their five-game losing streak and then two unimpressive victories against undermanned San Antonio and woefully overmatched Sacramento gave Jackson plenty of reason to pause. Unfortunately for Jackson, what he saw in Saturday's practice didn't alleviate many of his concerns, lamenting what he called the team's "lack of focus."
An NBA 2K11 simulation revealed those fears to be unfounded, though the Lakers entered their first-round match-up with the New Orleans Hornets woefully unprepared, losing the first game of the series. The Lakers woke up from the letdown and then pulled out all the stops the remaining four games to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. So should the Lakers fall when they host the Hornets Sunday at Staples Center in real life, feel comforted that it's simply mimicking the video game simulation.
Below are the details on how each game turned out after the jump.
Lakers top performer: Kobe Bryant (42 points on 16-of-26 shooting, two assists)
Hornets top performer: Chris Paul (25 points on eight-of-20 shooting, four assists)
How the game was lost: Plenty of signs suggested this would happen. The Lakers ended the season with far from perfect basketball. The Lakers have gone 4-4 in Sunday afternoon games this season. And there were a few uncertainties regarding the team's health.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum appeared in his first game after missing the season finale after hyperextending his knee Tuesday against San Antonio. Though an MRI revealed he just had a bone bruise, Bynum appeared behind on conditioning and lacked the aggressiveness that epitomized his defensive prowess and work on the boards. The result: Bynum scored only six points on three-of-10 shooting. Lakers forward Matt Barnes struggled in similar fashion in his first game after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right knee that sidelined him for the last two games. Despite getting his knee drained Thursday, a procedure that enabled him to bend his knee completely since having surgery three months ago, Barnes still appeared tentative, finishing with only three points on one-of-two shooting and three rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.
But the Lakers can't chalk up this loss to players coming off the injured list. They simply played poorly. Bryant deservedly shot a high volume of shots considering most of them had gone in, but poor ball movement prevented the Lakers from taking advantage of their inside presence. Frustrated with the team's lack of ball movement and Bynum's poor conditioning, Gasol contributed with 13 offensive rebounds and 15 points on six of eight shooting, with all of his field goal attempts coming on offensive putbacks. Meanwhile, Bynum's adjustment into the lineup featured the Lakers lacking a defensive identity. In addition to Paul's ability to drive to the lane with ease, the Hornets ran pick-and-roll on the majority of their possessions and converted on 60% of their shots, many of them coming off pull up jumpers.
Lakers top performer: Bryant (25 points on 10 of 18 shooting, 7 assists)
Hornets top performer: Paul (20 points on eight-of-16 shooting, seven assists)
How the game was won: Many presumed the Hornets woke up the defending champions by stealing Game 1, but the Lakers appeared just as uninterested in Game 2. At least, the Lakers tied the series up at 1-1 and solved a few of their problems, including Bynum showing more effectiveness (15 points on seven-of-10 shooting and 15 rebounds) and Gasol getting more touches from Bryant (20 points on 9 of 15 shooting). But the Lakers simply lacked the hustle to put the game away early.
It appeared they would do so after a 30-10 first-quarter lead. But the Hornets met every double digit deficit with a comeback by forcing the Lakers into committing 18 turnovers, converting on 24 points in transition and scoring at a 55% rate. Part of the reason pointed to the bench, with Steve Blake just returning after missing the past three games because of chicken pox, Brown still having knee issues and Shannon Brown shooting three-of-11 from the field. That prompted Jackson to immediately put the starters back into the game. The inconsistent proved so looming that the Lakers didn't secure the victory until going on a 10-1 run in the final two minutes, led by Bryant (six points) and Gasol (four points).
Game 3: Lakers' 109-87 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (24 points on 10 of 21 shooting)
Hornets top performer: Paul (24 points on eight-of-19 shooting)
How the game was won: Usually, Jackson distributes heavy minutes to starters during the playoffs, knowing that the results matter more than the development at that point. But with how well the Lakers' played in Game, he didn't need to do that. The Lakers retook their home court by storming out to a 35-15 first-quarter lead and then widened the gap to 60-33 at halftime. The strong inside presence with 44 points in the paint and 54 rebounds and defense in holding New Orleans to 39% allowed Bryant to play under 30 minutes, which actually marked a three-minute decrease from his season average.
The increased playing time for the reserves helped out Brown, who appeared in rare shooting form, scoring 20 points on seven-of-10 shooting. Credit the bench for honoring Jackson's trust. He gave the reserves time because of the large lead, but they managed to hold onto the lead by combining for 38 points. Lakers forward Lamar Odom posted a dependable 11 points and eight rebonds. Blake seemed more in rhythm and comfortable running the offense. Barnes turned up the aggressiveness, finishing with eight rebounds and four steals. And Brown took better shots within the context of the offense.
Lakers top performer: Bryant (45 points on 14 of 28 shooting)
Hornets top performer: Trevor Ariza (18 points on seven of 14 shooting)
How the game was won: Two words. Kobe Bryant. OK, so the Lakers also held the Hornets to a shooting mark at 34%. They also committed only two turnovers. But this was one of those nights where Bryant simply couldn't be stopped, scoring nearly half of the Lakers' points. This wasn't a game, however, where Bryant simply went in isolation and played one-on-five. The Lakers displayed tremendous ball movement and set up Bryant to score in both the post and off pick-and-rolls. With al the rest Bryant had in Game 3 he increased his intensity and earned 20 free throw attempts and knocked down 17 of them. This was one of those games where everyone felt fine with Bryant going on a tear because he kept making them.
Game 5: Lakers' 99-83 victory
Lakers top performers: Bryant (38 points on 16 of 27 shooting); Bynum 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting
Hornets top performer: Paul (25 points on eight-of-18 shooting)
How the game was won: The Lakers usually perform well in closeout games, but it sure didn't look lke it at first. Perhaps because the Lakers enjoyed a 3-1 advantage, they entered the game acting like they could afford to lose the game. An angry sellout crowd at Staples Center booed after the Lakers fell behind 28-13 at the end of the first quarter. It apparently woke them up. The Lakers opened the second period with a 9-2 run and outscored the Hornets 25-14 the entire quarter.
But Lakers guard Derek Fisher was far from satisfied. He gave a compelling halftime speech, explaining how they would be wasting an opportunity in closing out the series after fighting so hard to regain homecourt advantage in Game 3. He also spoke up on behalf of the fans, saying the Lakers had only saved their sharp performances on the road and that Los Angeles deserved to see in person the Lakers playing solid basketball and then resting early before the West semifinals. The Lakers responded with a 31-15 third quarter, led by none other than Fisher himself, scoring 12 of his 20 points in that time frame.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: The Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24), Pau Gasol (16), Lamar Odom (7) and Shannon Brown (12) will begin defense of their NBA championship on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center against the New Orleans Hornets. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / April 12, 2011
Second photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol should benefit from the Lakers' size advantage against the Hornets. Credit: Chuck Cook / Associated Press / February 5, 2011
Third photo: An NBA2K11 simulation predicts Bryant will have a big series against New Orleans. Credit: Misty McElroy / Reuters / February 6, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant passes to a teammate after drawing the Hornets defense to him in a regular season game in January. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times