Lakers vs. Hornets -- What to watch with Hornets 24/7

In the bottom half of the draw in the Western Conference, four teams are separated by only four games in the loss column. While it's unlikely Denver, currently the fifth seed, would fall to the bottom of the ladder or Memphis at eighth will rise up to fifth, there will undoubtedly be some shuffling of the playoff matchups over the last 10 or so games of the regular season.

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Whether it is in Sunday's game or in a first-round series, do the Hornets have a shot at the Lakers without David West?

Still, in the first round there's certainly a good chance the Lakers, putting an increasingly strong hold on the second seed, will draw New Orleans, currently sitting in seventh. So tonight's tilt at Staples against Chris Paul and the Hornets gets a little added dose of intrigue. On its face, a matchup against the Hornets feels like the best possible draw for L.A., particularly after New Orleans lost star forward David West this week to an ACL tear. In the face of the bad news I immediately wondered if the Hornets could hold on to their playoff spot -- can't believe I was the only one -- but in their first game without West the Hornets managed to keep pace, beating Phoenix on the road Friday night.

One game, sure, but the Hornets hold the tiebreaker on Memphis in eighth (with two more games against the Grizzlies still on the schedule), and a fairly comfy lead over ninth-place Houston. There's some wiggle room, and with Paul at the point, the Hornets aren't guaranteed to fall off the end of the Earth.

Without West balancing out the scales (at least somewhat), the Lakers have a serious advantage in overall talent, and an even bigger one in the frontcourt (despite the presence of noted Lakers killer Carl Landry, promoted to the starting lineup in West's place). Certainly the first three meetings of the season -- Lakers victories all, all games in which the Hornets had West available -- reinforce the point.

Can CP3 win four games against the back-to-back champs by himself?

To get a better feel for Monty Williams and Crew, both for tonight's game and looking forward to the postseason, I hit up our guy in New Orleans, Ryan Schwan of Hornets 24/7. He was nice enough to answer a few questions:

1. What do the Hornets do now that David West is out for the season? Do they still make the playoffs?

The Hornets will still make the playoffs. After a rough stretch through February and early March, CP3 got some rest as a result of a concussion that kept him out of two games (as odd as that sounds) and has come back at full strength, averaging 22 points and 11 assists. At full strength, he's good enough to carry most teams the rest of the way into the playoffs even without his high-scoring partner.

2. What happens to the bench with Carl Landry in the starting lineup?

Before the Landry-[Marcus] Thornton trade the Hornets had one of the weakest benches in the league. They had three players who could score off the bench in [Jarrett] Jack, [Willie] Green and Thornton, but there wasn't any way to play them all at the same time. The acquisition of Landry, despite the admittedly heavy price of Thornton, actually gave the Hornets three players off the bench who could impact the game, and all three could work off each other. It formed an eight-man rotation I would have been comfortable with against all but two or three other NBA teams. With Landry now in the starting lineup, however, the Hornets are once again short on scoring off the bench, and will again be forced to rely on Jason Smith and David Andersen behind him -- two jump-shooting big men who run very hot and cold and don't rebound much. That's a disaster.

3. Should the Hornets hang on to the seventh seed, they'll draw the Lakers. What does a seven-game series with the L.A. look like from a matchup standpoint? How much confidence would the Hornets have?

The Lakers were the worst draw the Hornets could have gotten even with West. Odom routinely hounds West into bad games, Emeka Okafor is overmatched by the Bynum-Gasol combination, and the Hornets' wings are typically limited. For the Hornets to beat the Lakers in the recent past, they've always needed one other huge game from someone other than Paul. I don't see that coming from anywhere reliable, and I'd be happy with even a pair of Hornets wins.

I do hold out some hope, however, that the Hornets will take back the 6 seed from Portland. The Hornets give Dallas fits, and that would still be their best chance, sans West, to reach the second round. If they had West, I'd have been confident going into a Dallas-Hornets series.

Thanks again to Ryan for his insight.

One more interesting note I found over at Hornets 24/7, regarding former Laker Trevor Ariza. In the wake of New Orleans' victory Friday night, Schwan's cohort Micheal McNamara had this to say:

"I don’t want to be negative after a loss, but I can’t help but notice Ariza’s general lack of passion. I watched this guy a lot earlier in his career and he would have killed to get 20 minutes back in the day. Now he gets 40 and he really looks like he could care less. If 20 year old Ariza were to meet this version, he wouldn’t recognize him. I hope this changes."

That Ariza's on-court performance has suffered after leaving L.A. -- this season he's shooting only 39 percent from the floor and 30 from beyond the arc -- is no secret, but a review indicating a loss of passion for a guy noted for his energy winning a ring with the Lakers is disappointing.