Lakers Get Ready for New Orleans, Chris Paul

Sweeping a team for the season is difficult in the NBA, particularly one from a team’s own conference. Yet that’s what the Lakers will look to do against New Orleans, having beaten the Hornets in both trips to the Big Easy as well as a Jan. 7 game at STAPLES Center:

The three previous matchups went as follows:

Dec. 29 at New Orleans: 103-88 Lakers
Jan. 7 at STAPLES: 101-97 Lakers
Feb. 5 at New Orleans: 101-95 Lakers

In the February game, the Lakers went early and often to Pau Gasol, who scored a season-high 34 points while taking advantage of his extra inches against Hornets power forward David West … who tore his ACL late in New Orleans’ Thursday evening win at Utah. As such, former King and Rocket Carl Landry will get the starting nod, as he did in Friday’s 106-100 win at Phoenix.

How different are the Hornets with Landry in for West in terms of a game plan and execution of a system? Not much, according to Phil Jackson. In fact, he answered a reporter’s question about whether or not they were different by saying “No,” calling Landry’s game “very similar.”

“We had a scout watch the game in Phoenix, had some eyes on the game and video of it, and Landry had 19 points, played pretty well,” added Jackson.

Landry, nor starting center Emeka Okafor, were available in the February meeting that saw the Lakers commit just four turnovers in the ball game, one shy of a franchise record. Turnovers could be an issue on Sunday, as the Lakers rank second in the league, but the Hornets just 19th; the hands of Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant have been particularly active for the Lakers around the perimeter of late.

Driving the Hornets’ ship is, of course, Chris Paul, ever in the league’s-best-point-guard argument. Paul has been slowed by his left knee this season (see the huge brace in the photo on the right), but Jackson cited some recent evidence that suggests Paul is starting to feel better:

He made some big plays last night down the stretch in Phoenix, and kind of the prototype thing that he can do is go inside, take a bump but still have great body control, get in the air and still be able to sustain the balance and form so he can make a shot from eight to 10 feet. He made two or three of those shots with Grant (Hill) guarding him last night, and it showed to me that maybe he’s coming back from some of those knee problems he had before that were limiting his ability to be able to do those things that made him special.

If the season ended today, Paul and his seventh-seeded Hornets would be coming to Los Angeles to take on the No. 2 seed Lakers in the first round, which surely isn’t lost on either team, both looking to make a statement on Sunday.