The struggling Lakers won't have time to sulk about their loss to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night. The team is right back in the swing of things when they visit the Big Easy tonight, where they will face the New Orleans Hornets. New Orleans has recently announced that they will be called the Pelicans starting next season and is currently in last place in the Southwest Division.
For Los Angeles, this game is about more than just recovering after a bad loss. It is about preventing their losing streak from reaching three games and reasserting themselves as a Western Conference superpower. They know that they are a better team than their record indicates and will be looking to have a great game against the Hornets.
The matchup may appear obvious on paper, but the Lakers won't have a key player in Pau Gasol on the court with them. The Spanish seven-footer is battling knee tendinitis, and there is no real timetable for his return.
That makes it all the more important that the Lakers win against New Orleans, lest they look like a team that falls apart in the absence of just one man.
Time: Wednesday, December 5th, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: Fox Sports New Orleans, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (8-10) vs. New Orleans Hornets (5-11)
Betting Lines: Los Angeles (-5), New Orleans (+5)
Injuries: Pau Gasol (knee, out), Steve Nash (leg, out), Steve Blake (abdomen, out), Anthony Davis (ankle, out), Eric Gordon (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Look to Snap Losing Streak Against Young Hornets
The Lakers have gone 1-5 on the road this season, but they cannot afford to lose against the Hornets. They are a much more experienced team and have the means to make this a blowout.
It's still not going to be easy for them tonight. Pau Gasol is a big loss, and Antawn Jamison does not provide the same size nor the same physicality at power forward. He will score points, but he will not do the same work in the low-post that Gasol does.
Los Angeles will also be less than 24 hours removed from their loss to Houston at this point, a loss that saw them blow a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter. No matter how you look at it, that's a tough loss to shake off.
The team will not have any choice tonight against the young and inexperienced Hornets. Not only is New Orleans ranked 23rd in scoring and rebounding (the Lakers are ranked sixth and third, respectively), but two of their best players are not playing. The stage is set for Los Angeles to come in and clean house, and it would take a bad game from everyone to lead to a third straight loss.
Key Matchup: Metta World Peace vs. Al-Farouq Aminu
After three years of struggles and becoming a non-factor, Metta World Peace has finally broken out for the Lakers. He has flourished in Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense and looks like the player he was with the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets in the prime of his career.
On the season, World Peace is averaging 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, and he's shooting 38 percent from long range. He is a great three-point threat and continues to play tough defense from start to finish.
However, World Peace is going to have a tough time scoring points in New Orleans. He will be guarded by Al-Farouq Aminu, who is slowly establishing himself as one of the best pests in the league.
Aminu may seem skinny at 6'9", 215 pounds, but he never backs down from a battle. He is averaging 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, and he does his fair share on offense at 10.1 points per contest.
The man also has more height and length than World Peace, which could make for a long night on offense. That said, in order to win this battle, World Peace simply cannot become overly reliant on his three-point shot. More than half of his field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc, and Aminu is going to be fully prepared for that.
If D'Antoni can draw up a few plays that let World Peace work on the inside and be aggressive under the basket, then this matchup could be tilted in the Lakers' favor. Otherwise, there is little hope against the tough Aminu.
X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Per usual, with Steve Nash out of the picture, Kobe Bryant must be the go-to guy for the Lakers. He is a natural scorer and has proven he can do more than just that. He can play defense and create plays as well.
The Black Mamba scored 39 points and pulled down six rebounds against Houston, but notched only two assists. He also attempted 31 field goals, nine of which were from long range. Second in field-goal attempts was Antawn Jamison, with just 11.
If the Lakers want any hope of handily winning games until Nash's return, Bryant needs to stop trying to be the alpha dog all the time. He has talented teammates surrounding him on the court, namely center Dwight Howard, and he needs to start trusting them all the time as opposed to just every once in a while, starting tonight against New Orleans.
Not only does Bryant need to be the go-to guy on offense, but he must also be the leader. Howard has a great advantage in being matched up against Robin Lopez, which means Bryant must be willing to get him involved. Jamison will be up against a weak defender in Ryan Anderson, so that matchup must be exploited as well.
That isn't to say that Bryant should abandon his scoring completely. Out of all the Lakers, he is the best at that. He simply must balance his attack against this young New Orleans team, and in doing so, he will lead his team to victory.
The Lakers may be hurting following their loss to Houston, but they'll redeem themselves in New Orleans tonight. The Hornets are just too shorthanded and too young to go toe-to-toe with experienced Los Angeles. Tonight will show just how green they are.
Dwight Howard will absolutely dominate Lopez in the paint, going after every rebound and throwing down some fantastic dunks, courtesy of lobs from Bryant. Metta World Peace will sink his threes but have a poor field-goal night with Aminu guarding him in full lock-down mode.
In another showing of "Kobe: Point Guard," Bryant will shift from scorer to playmaker. Not only will he put up his fair share of points, but he will run the pick-and-roll beautifully and tally a high assist total (for him, at least). He will get Howard and Jamison involved accordingly, which will spell out a good night for the Lakers.
This game is theirs to lose, and it will result in them getting back into the win column.
Los Angeles Lakers 111, New Orleans Hornets 97