By John Carroll
Phil Jackson must be pleased with the Los Angeles Lakers team effort in Game 3. The Lakers had 5 players score in double figures with Kobe Bryant leading the way with 30 points on an efficient 10-20 shooting from the field. In addition the Lakers did a very good job on Chris Paul in the second half of this game. Paul was on his way to a big game scoring 18 points in the first half, but the Lakers defense held him to 4 points in the second half.
One of the biggest advantages that the Lakers have in this series is the size and length of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Lakers established their size advantage in Game 3 early. They pounded the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and he made the Hornets pay, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half. The Hornets and Emeka Okafor had no answers for Bynum in the low post.. Gasol took over for Bynum in the second half scoring 13 points on deep paint touches versus the undersized Carl Landry.
Game 4 Adjustments:
The New Orleans Hornets are going to have to find a way to deal with the Los Angeles Lakers size if they want to get back in the series. The Lakers pounded New Orleans inside, finishing with 48 points in the paint with 20 of them coming in the first quarter. The Hornets may be forced to adjust their lineup heading into Game 4. Carl Landry is undersized and Bynum and Gasol are complete mismatches for him. The Hornets may have to play a bigger lineup using either Aaron Grey or DJ Mbenga alongside Emeka Okafor. Utilizing two bigs on the court at the same time may be the only way to match up and compete with the Lakers post game. The Hornets must also bring an edge and sense of toughness to Game 4. They must be physical with the frontline of the Lakers and compete in the paint and on the glass.
Phil Jackson made the switch to put Kobe Bryant on Chris Paul in Game 2. Kobe used his athleticism and length to defend Paul. He harassed him all night and made him work hard to score. Playing Chris Paul takes a lot out of anyone and can take away from your ability to perform on the offensive end of the floor. With this in mind Jackson utilized a combination of Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant on Paul. Look for the Lakers to utilize these matchups on Chris Paul in Game 4 because it proved extremely successful. The Lakers gave Paul different looks and also took some pressure off Kobe defensively. This allowed him to expend more energy on the offensive end of the floor. allowed Kobe to get back in his offensive rhythm. Paul torched the Lakers in the first half put in the second half the Lakers really tightened up the defense on Paul.
The Lakers big men continue to do a better job in pick and roll coverage as this series goes on. They were alert, and active in Game 3 and forced the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands. They will continue to attempt to get the ball of Chris Paul’s hands in Game 4 because it is one of the biggest keys to this series. They have been able to limit Paul’s scoring in each game of this series. Paul exploded in Game 1 but since then the Lakers have been much sharper and disciplined in their defensive coverages. They will utilize hard blitzes and traps to accomplish this. Also look for Fisher or Bryant to deny Paul once he gives up the ball.
The Lakers stingy defense held the Hornets to just 86 points in Game 3. They need to find ways to score and their best way to do that is to get Chris Paul going again in this series. Chris Paul scored 18 point by halftime in Game 3 but only 4 points in the second half. The Lakers have been able to limit Paul’s effectiveness since Game 1. Since scoring 33 points in Game 1 they have only allowed him 42 points in the past two games. In addition Paul was getting to the free throw line 12 times a game in the first two games and only got there 5 times in Game 3. The Hornets need Paul to have the ball in his hands and run a ton of pick rolls in Game 4. They ran 60 or more pick and rolls in Game 1 and they need to get back to that strategy. They need to put incredible pressure on the Lakers big men and draw them away from the basket. Chris Paul needs to be extremely assertive on the offense end of the floor because it is the only way the Hornets can pull an upset in Game 4. He cannot defer to his teammates.
The Hornets bench must step up if they are going to win Game 4. They have gotten less and less production from their bench as this series has progressed. They got 38 points in Game 1, 13 points in Game 2 and only 9 points in Game 3. The Lakers outscored them 20-9 off the bench. Lamar Odom has been the most consistent performer off the bench in this series. The Hornets bench must step up in Game 4 if the Hornets are going to have a chance to win. They especially need Aaron Gray, Jarrett Jack and Willie Green to give them a lift off the bench.
The Lakers have done an excellent job of shrinking the floor defensively and protecting the paint. They are loading up on all of Chris Paul’s pick and rolls and isolations. This strategy has allowed the Hornets open looks on kick outs to shooters. Unfortunately for the Hornets they have not been able to knock down the open perimeter shots. The Hornets only shot a combined 2-13 (15.4%) from the 3 point line in Game 3. They must be able to improve their 3 point shooting in Game 4 if they want to defeat the Lakers. Marco Belinelli could be a key player for the Hornets. He was only 1-7 in Game 3, he must be able to knock down the perimeter shot if he gets the same looks on Sunday. If the Hornets can knock down shots it will make the Lakers choose between shrinking the court or protecting the 3 point line.
Prediction: Lakers win game 4