The Los Angeles Lakers have their hands full with the New Orleans Hornets at 2-2, but their bigger concern is the health of superstar Kobe Bryant.
Game 5 of this series will be held Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Oddsmakers have New Orleans as big 10 ½-point road ‘dogs with a total of 183 points. TNT will have the tip-off at 7:30 p.m. (PT).
Bryant added injury to insult by rolling his ankle towards the end of Sunday’s 93-88 loss in Game 4. He was held scoreless in the first half and shot just 5-of-18 for the game (17 points). Bryant was on crutches after the game and is listed as probable at Don Best after strongly hinting he’ll play no matter what.
The Hornets (48-38 straight-up, 42-42-2 against the spread) tied up the series yesterday by winning as six-point underdogs. They’re 3-1 ATS this series after ‘covering’ the first two games in L.A. as double-digits ‘dogs.
Point guard Chris Paul was the hero last game with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. His rebound total was the same as twin-towers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined. New Orleans won the battle of the boards (39-32) for the first time this series.
Paul is averaging 25.5 PPG this series, 30 PPG in the two wins versus 21 PPG in the two defeats. He had his great effort last game despite jamming his thumb in Game 3.
New Orleans is a limited offensive team, averaging 94.9 PPG in the regular season (ranked 27th) even with leading scorer David West playing until March 24 before his season-ending injury (torn ACL). The team scored 109 points in the opening win in Los Angeles, but is averaging just 85.7 PPG since.
The ‘over’ and ‘under’ are both 2-2 this series, 1-1 at each location.
Forwards Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza are trying ease Paul’s scoring load at 17 and 14.8 PPG respectively. However, they’re the only two in double-digits this series besides Paul. Shooting guard Marco Belinelli has been a huge disappointment at 6.5 PPG and 29.7 percent shooting.
New Orleans’ margin of error to win is very small. It’s averaging 6.5 turnovers in the two wins versus 15 in the losses. The bench has outscored L.A. in the victories (57-39 in total), getting outscored (47-22) in the defeats.
The Lakers (59-27 SU, 40-45-1 ATS) can’t be feeling good about the Bryant injury. He’s normally capable of exploding for 30-35 points in any game and taking over in the fourth quarter, plus he’s a good defensive option on Paul in spurts. The good news is he’s played effectively with injuries in the past.
Bryant’s ailment wouldn’t be so worrisome if Gasol was playing up to par. He’s averaging just 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds this series. Both are way below his regular season averages (18.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG). He has a big size advantage over Landry in the post, but has to be more aggressive.
Coach Phil Jackson is a master motivator as the Lakers aim for a ‘three-peat’ and to tie Boston for the most NBA Championships all-time (17). It’s hard to see anything short of a great effort on Tuesday.
Gasol and Bynum will likely reassert themselves on the boards and the whole team will help pick up the scoring slack for Bryant is he’s indeed hobbled. The problem is Derek Fisher will continue to be a defensive liability, needing a huge team defensive effort on Paul.
The series will go back to New Orleans for Game 6 on Thursday, with a potential Game 7 in L.A. on Saturday for all the marbles.