By Tamara Latta
The Lakers started a new season on Sunday and, for some reason, they were unaware that it was the playoffs. They looked very unfocused and lackadaisical. The Hornets came out with a full tank of gas, speeding up and down the court making plays and shooting nothing but net. You can’t go off a team’s regular season record or performance and assume it will be a smooth ride.
There’s no way to say it other than the Hornets outworked the Lakers. Chris Paul looked so comfortable on the floor Sunday afternoon; all he needed was a couch to sit on when he was called out of the game to get his rest. It’s frustrating for a lot of fans and people to see the Lakers lose this way, knowing that they can do better. They are the two-time defending champs, and any team that has its eyes on the prize would have to go through the Los Angeles Lakers first.
Pau Gasol only shot the ball nine times in on Sunday’s loss against the Hornets– that’s unacceptable. Gasol has too much talent, and we can say he’s arguably one of the best power forwards in the league. There is a bit of inconsistency, but he has to come out of every game motivated, focused and ready to take on the challenge. He has a reputation of being “soft” in the league, and that’s why players often test him and play very physically against him. This game isn’t about being hard or soft, it’s about being hungry and wanting it more than your opponent. It’s about having heart and passion for the game. Gasol received so much criticism for his performance in game one because of his lack of hunger. All he needs to do is come to work and do his job.
The Lakers will also need the presence of Odom and Bynum to advance to the next level. Every player in the game needs to sweat, not just Bryant.
In game two on Wednesday night, the Lakers sent a message to the Hornets’ Chris Paul. After letting him have his way in game one, they were able to hold him to 20 points and nine assists. That was a downgrade after going for 33 points, seven rebounds, and 14 assists on Sunday afternoon.
Bynum was a factor for the Lakers, and the stat sheet proved it: he had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Bryant wasn’t that effective on the offensive end, but he was able to aggravate Paul on the defensive end. Gasol had another unhealthy game, finishing with eight points, five rebounds, and five assists. His game is inferior so far, shooting only 21.1 percent in this series. Odom showed why he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy, pouring in 16 points and grabbing seven boards in just 28 minutes off the bench.
In order for the Lakers to win this series, they are going to need Gasol to be more productive offensively. They’re jet-setting out to New Orleans on Thursday to meet in game three set for tonight. During the regular season the Lakers won both games against the Hornets, but in the playoffs both teams are 0-0. I expect the Lakers to win the series, but nothing will be easy for the champs. All we can hope is that the Lakers are focused and mentally ready to play.