If you've been around these parts a while, you know how we like to do. Before the beginning of each new playoff series, each of SSR's scribes will peer into the crystal ball and tell you how the series will play out. Or they'll just guess it out of their ass, like all predictions are.
After the jump, the combined knowledge and beliefs of your fine editorial staff.
There's no point overthinking this. The Hornets are the weakest playoff opponent the Lakers have faced in over 10 years. A sweep is totally plausible, but I'm guessing the champs will snore through one of the games in New Orleans. Drama will be in short supply. There are lottery teams that would present a tougher matchup.
Lakers in 5
I am always hesitant to predict a sweep because winning two straight road games against a 46 win team is no easy task, but I just couldn't convince myself that the Hornets would win a game. Everything in this match-up tilts towards the Lakers. The Hornets have the worst defensive field goal percentage within 10 feet of the basket of all West playoff teams which doesn't bode well against the dominant post games of Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and even Bryant. Speaking of Bryant, he has a very favorable match-up in this series as the Hornets don't have a true wing stopper. While some may consider Ariza to be a defensive stopper I think his biggest strength is his speed and length for jumping passing lanes and getting steals off the ball. He isn't the same on-the-ball shutdown specialist that a Tony Allen or Shane Battier are. If he is forced to guard Kobe there will be little opportunity to jump passing lanes.
The biggest, or should I say only, advantage that the Hornets have is at the point guard position with Chris Paul. Chris Paul in my opinion is the best two-way point guard in the league. He can be a complete ball hawk defensively generating steals and easy transition points for his team. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the man he is guarding will primarily be a spot up shooter on offense and thus Paul's defensive skills won't have much of an impact. Offensively he is an incredible orchestrator who is extremely efficient when motivated but since fellow all-star David West went out with an injury Paul hasn't seemed as interested. The final piece that led me to predict a sweep was this: the Hornets starting unit of Paul-Bellinelli-Ariza-Landry-Okafor is a -5.74 points per 100 possessions than their opponent on the season. If the starters can't outscore their average opponent then what chance will they have against the top end talent that the Lakers possess?
Lakers in 4
Yes, I know that on Friday I stated that the Lakers have a sizeable advantage at every position barring Point Guard; and the post-injury CP3 doesn't seem potent enough to single-handedly win a game against the Laker lineup. I know the Laker frontline should dominate; I know the Hornets should have major trouble scoring against the Lakers with their number one scorer in David West sidelined with an ACL tear. I know the Hornets' lack of size on the wings can also significantly hurt them. I know the talent margin between these two teams is massive. I know that the Hornets, post - David West injury, are the weakest team in the Western Conference Playoff Bracket. I know that many, if not most, are predicting a sweep.
I know all this.. however, I also know how this Laker team has played over the last couple of years. I'm not going to go as far as to say I know their mindset coming into the series, but there's a historical precedent for the Lakers playing down to their competition, overlooking their lower-tier opponents and not giving their all. Even though the Lakers only need to give 80% or so to beat this Hornet team, I don't doubt there'll be a game or two where they don't even bring that much effort and execution.
And then there's the other factors - there always seem to be one role player or two who manages to absolutely kill the Lakers in a game, coming completely out of nowhere. Hot shooting is always a possibility. Add in the fact that Bynum, Barnes and Artest aren't 100% (Barnes knee soreness, Bynum bone bruise in knee, Artest knee hyperextension - not to mention Blake's chicken pox); and the Lakers haven't been executing well at all of late; and I think this series goes to six games.
Lakers in 6
Besides any series including the Atlanta Hawks, this series is probably the most boring and predictable for most NBA fans. New Orleans couldn't be a more perfect team match-up for the Lakers. I just can't conceive any way the Hornets can beat the Lakers in a series of any length, no matter Andrew Bynum's situation. Really, that's the only thing I care about - Andrew Bynum's health. The Lakers don't need him to beat the Hornets. They will need him to win #17. I'm hoping they use him just enough to keep his game sharp, but also save him for the rest of the teams that do matter.
Still, the Lakers like to make Cinderella darlings out of at least one Playoff opponent, and the Hornets better hope it's them for a game. If Drew is limited, I could totally see the Lakers letting Emeka Okafor look like a guy some folks debated over whether or not he should have been the #1 pick over Dwight Howard. I could also see Chris Paul remembering that he can score too, Pau maybe getting that deer-in-headlights look, Ron bricking, Shannon dribbling, Luke playing, and Kobe shooting way too much trying to pick the Lakers up. Some of those might happen every game, but all of it might happen only once.
If Drew plays like he has been? Sweep.
Lakers in 5
I'm going to let my imagination run wild here, and say that the Lakers will win the first three games in convincing fashion, pretty much completely shut it off for Games 4 and 5 in the hopes they can win one of two in which they coast, which you can't do in the frickin' playoffs, causing the Lakers to have to win Game 6 on the road. Wouldn't that fit their season perfectly?
Lakers in 6
Just about all the talk heading into this series is about who the Hornets aren't. They aren't Memphis, because Memphis tanked to avoid the Lakers. They aren't Portland, who would be a much tougher matchup for the Lakers. The reason everybody's talking about who they aren't is because the discussion of who they are is actually more disheartening in the aspect of determining their threat to win this series.
What they are is a team that overachieved to start the season and then hung on to their playoff spot for dear life for 60+ games. What they are is a team that lost their best scorer to injury, because apparently God likes to pile on. What they are is dependent on one of the world's best point guards, but said point guard doesn't always appear to want to be depended on at this point.
Whether viewed in the affirmative or the negative, the Hornets are not a threat to win this series. Due to David West's injury and Chris Paul's whatever it is that has changed with Chris Paul, they just don't have the horses to win this race, and to make matters worse (or better I suppose), they lack the capability to take advantage of the Lakers' weaknesses. If the Lakers were any other team, with normal motivations, the sweep would be the correct choice. But some combination of Chris Paul taking and the Laker team giving will result in one win for the Hornets.
Lakers in 5