If Pau Gasol can’t get comfortable in a city once ruled by his
native Spain, the Los Angeles Lakers could be in for a long
The Hornets already are showing signs of making the first round
of the playoffs more than a mere formality for the two-time
defending champs, having seized home advantage with a 1-1 split of
the series’ first two games in Los Angeles.
Four-time All-Star Chris Paul and his upstart squad will be back
home for Friday night’s Game 3, which perhaps not-so-coincidentally
sold out soon after Paul led the Hornets to an upset victory in the
opening game of the best-of-seven series.
Even in losing on Wednesday night, the Hornets showed they were
not about to let the Lakers wipe the floor with them. New Orleans
remained competitive until the final minutes of Game 2 and lost by
nine despite missing 12 free throws, turning the ball over 16 times
and having starting center Emeka Okafor in early foul trouble.
If anything, that result left the Hornets’ surprising nine-point
triumph in Game 1 look like less of a fluke and made it clear that
the Lakers had lost any intimidation factor they may have earned
with their four-game sweep of the teams’ regular season
”We feel as though we kind of beat ourselves,” Hornets guard
Jarrett Jack said of Game 2. ”Take no credit away from them, but
we definitely had some mistakes.”
Then again, things might have been different if Gasol hadn’t
struggled in both games. He scored eight points in each – about 11
below his regular season average – on a combined 4 of 19
For now, Gasol at least sounds as if his confidence is unshaken
and he knows the formula for snapping out of his postseason
”You’ve got to stay aggressive out there, no matter what’s
going on, no matter whether things are going your way or not,”
Gasol said. ”You’ve got to continue to play and continue to make
plays whichever way you can.”
Even Kobe Bryant, who hasn’t been shy about urging Gasol to
overcome his nice-guy nature on the court, was more complimentary
of the struggling forward’s Game 2 performance.
”He didn’t have a good shooting night, but he was aggressive
and he attacked,” Bryant said. ”That’s what we need from him. He
sets the tone for everybody else in terms of him being aggressive.
It’s a certain energy that he carries with him.”
The Lakers survived Gasol’s 2 of 10 shooting on Wednesday in
part because they simply have the depth one expects from a title
contender. Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest picked up the
slack on offense. Meanwhile, the whole team played better defense
after Phil Jackson decided to have Bryant replace Derek Fisher as
Paul’s primary defender.
Rather than filling his normal role of piling up points, Bryant
focused on defense and it seemed to catch on among his teammates.
Jackson was clearly pleased and could very well employ the same
strategy again on Friday night.
”That was the defense that we played late in the season when we
had our little run,” Jackson said, referring to an 18-game stretch
in which the Lakers won 17 times.
Paul went from being dominant (33 points, 14 assists in Game 1)
to exceptional (20 points, nine assists in Game 2) and the Hornets
offensive flow as a whole seemed more disrupted as their shooting
percentage plummeted from 52 percent to 39 percent.
”I wish we could have gotten 2-0, but I feel good because we
competed,” Paul said. ”But in order to win this series, it’s
going to take more. It’s going to take more from me, it’s going to
take more from everybody.”
Hornets rookie coach Monty Williams wasn’t ready to congratulate
his team on leaving Los Angeles with one win. Rather, he wondered
whether he should be concerned that his team let an opportunity to
take a 2-0 lead slip away.
”It’s different because we’re playing against a team that has
so much experience in these situations, and we don’t and I don’t,”
Williams said. ”So, we have to play a certain way. We can’t say
‘Oh, we split in LA, now let’s go home.’ We have to have the
mentality that we have to win every game that we can.”
In other words, Williams remembers how the Lakers ripped the
2009-10 NBA title from Boston’s grasp after falling behind 3-2 in
the finals – and overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half
of Game 7 to do it.
Compared to the task they faced against the Celtics last June,
the Lakers challenge in the Big Easy doesn’t look all that hard. At
least, not yet.