On Saturday evening, the New Orleans Hornets (34-41) were officially eliminated from playoff contention after suffering a 112-101 home loss to Portland.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Lakers expect anything but N.O.’s best effort at New Orleans Arena on Monday night. After all, the defending champions tend to bring out the best in their opponents regardless of the situation, and this happens to be L.A.’s only appearance in the Crescent City on the season.
Furthermore, point guard Chris Paul will be starting in his fourth game since missing 25 games with a left knee injury, joining rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in perhaps the league’s quickest, problem-causing backcourts.
Thornton, taken with the 43rd pick of the 2009 NBA Draft by Miami before being shipped to New Orleans for two future second round picks, just one pick after L.A. selected Patrick Beverly and traded him to Miami, has averaged 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in nine starts. Collison, meanwhile, had 31 10+ point games and 12 10+ assist games in 33 starts sans Paul, and averaged the most assists (9.0) of any rookie before returning to the bench.
Paul, however, is easing his way back into the mix, averaging just 7.7 points 6.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds in 27.7 minutes in three contests, the last two of which were losses. His return hasn’t marked a clean bill of health for the Hornets, since starting small forward Peja Stojakovic has missed 10 straight games with a lower abdominal strain. As such, Morris Peterson and Thornton line up on the wings alongside Paul, with Emeka Okafor in the middle and David West at the power forward slot. Off the bench come Collison, James Posey, Darius Songaila and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Gray and Julian Wright.
Due to their personnel, the Hornets look to attack teams in transition as much as they can, then settle into a pick-and-roll heavy halfcourt game if need be, often featuring Paul and West. Defensively, New Orleans occasionally turns to a zone defense for the same personnel reasons, meaning L.A. will have to stick to Phil Jackson’s recent emphasis on taking care of the basketball and getting to the proper spots on offense, something that worked in Houston but not Oklahoma City (in related news, L.A. won in Houston but not in Oklahoma City).
The Lakers easily won both previous games against the Hornets this season at STAPLES Center, first with a 104-88 victory on Nov. 8 and then a 110-99 result on Dec. 1. L.A. also beat the Hornets three times in 2008-09 to just one loss (and six of seven times overall), putting the Purple and Gold on a four-game winning streak heading into Monday’s contest.
Lakers – Hornets Connections
- Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul were teammates on the USA Men’s Olympic team that earned a gold medal in the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, China, and remain close.
- Kobe was the 13th overall pick by the Hornets in the 1996 Draft before being shipped to L.A. for Vlade Divac (thanks, Hornets!!).
– Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison were both point guards at UCLA, their lone season together coming in 2005-06 when Farmar was a sophomore and Collison a freshman, when they reached the National Championship game.
- Pau Gasol and James Posey were teammates in Memphis from 2003-05.
- Peja Stojakovic was traded from Sacramento to Indiana in exchange for Ron Artest on Jan. 25, 2006.