Western Conference Playoffs
Two of the fiercest competitors in basketball will face off in the first round when Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul go at each other in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Unfortunately for CP3, who has been by every measure the best pure point guard of the past four years, his team will be at a distinct disadvantage at almost every other position.
March 27th: LA Lakers 102, New Orleans 84: As this is the only game without David West and with Carl Landry, this the one we're interested in the most. Paul had a pedestrian game (10 points, 9 assists, 2 steals), and although Landry (24 points, 8 free throw makes, 10 rebounds) & Emeka Okafor (14 points, 8 offensive rebounds) tried to make up for it offensively, it was just not enough to match the output of the two best Lakers. Pau Gasol dominated with 23 points and 16 rebounds, Kobe tossed up his usual 30, and the two stars hit 12 free throws combined to distance themselves from New Orleans.
February 5th: LA 101, NO 95: No Okafor or Trevor Ariza in this game, which meant domination inside for Gasol (34 points and 10 rebounds on 13 of 17 shooting); Kobe chipped in 32 in support. The big difference was at the charity stripe: Gasol and Bryant shot 16 of 17 from the line, and the Hornets shot only four free throws on the night.
January 7th: LA 101, NO 97: Gasol 21 points, Andrew Bynum 17 points, Lamar Odom 17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks. Frontline domination for the Lakers carried them to victory here.
December 29th: LA 103, NO 88: Bynum returns to the Laker starting lineup, notches up 18 points. Odom picks up 24 points off the bench.
Prediction: Lakers in 5. Well, LA got the tough draw in the West last year by getting Oklahoma City; this year they end up with the team they're probably the happiest to see. Although Okafor could give Bynum and Gasol some trouble on the defensive end and Landry is a bit of an oddity for Gasol/Odom to deal with defensively, Ariza has no chance of stopping Bryant one-on-one, the Lakers have the bigs to keep Paul from doing damage anywhere but outside, and Odom is a nightmare matchup for the Hornets against an underwhelming second unit.
That being said, LA has never made things easy for themselves this season, so Laker fans can expect to have a few teeth-gnashing moments before they advance safely to the second round.