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Lakers 98, Hornets 80: Very Good, Moving On

In the end, there was little drama. The New Orleans Hornets fought a scrappy insurgent war against the reigning champs, but their season has concluded much as we thought it would, under the grinding boot heels of Kobe Bryant and the Laker big men. By the time the Lake Show's 98 to 80 victory over the Hornets in Game Six wrapped up tonight, that Game One upset seemed distantly in the past, and both teams had reverted to the roles we cast for them at the outset of this series. The Lakers once again resembled a championship-caliber force. The Hornets once again looked like a team that needs a little more from Chris Paul and a whole lot more talent around him.

The last couple years, in nearly every Laker playoff series, there's come a moment when you can see the opponents' fighting spirit seep out of them for good. The Celtics in last year's Finals are the one exception: they never stopped battling or believing. But every other series the Lakers have played en route to their back-to-back titles has ended with an opponent bowing its head in defeat before the final buzzer sounds. Tonight that moment arrived for the Hornets some time in the third quarter.

They'd played the Lakers to a draw through the game's first 20 minutes. At the end of the first half, though, the champs went on a 9 to 4 run to open a little cushion at the break. The beginning of the third period saw the Lakers really start to dig in on defense. They crowded Hornets ball-handlers and forced the rock away from Chris Paul. They forced a few turnovers and locked down the defensive glass. New Orleans scored on just four of their first 11 possessions of the quarter, while the Lakers at the other end were feeding Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for good looks inside and piling up visits to the free-throw line. About halfway through the period, Bynum missed a shot inside but easily collected his own miss for the put-back to put the Lakers up by double digits. Timeout, New Orleans. The series, for all intents and purposes, was over. It was apparent to everyone that the Lakers had solved this team and were intent on delivering the knockout blows. There was never a serious Hornets run down the stretch. At one point the Laker lead touched 20 in the fourth quarter.

The champs were dominant in all areas tonight. Their offense wasn't much in the first half but was unstoppable in the second. Kobe Bryant scored 24 points, and Drew, Pau and Lamar Odom all chipped in with efficient scoring and point totals in the high- to mid-teens. What of offensive rebounds? Pshh, Drew been had offensive rebounds. The eight he personally collected led to 13 second-chance points. And as a team the Lakers made excellent use of the stripe, converting 25 of 26 freebies.

The Hornets' attack looked toothless in this one. Paul had his worst game of the series, with only 10 points and five turnovers. He reverted to the strangely docile form we saw from him at times in the regular season. Trevor Ariza, who had an excellent series on the whole, ran out of pixie dust, and none of the Hornets' other perimeter options stepped into the breach.

I do give New Orleans mucho credit for how they competed in the series. They were badly outgunned and, based on the talent disparity alone, could well have been swept. But Monte Williams did an admirable job motivating his team. That they took a pair of games from the Lakers, including a victory in front of their home fans, has to count for a decent showing. I'd say they exceeded most of our expectations.

But a look at the series stats tells a story of Laker pwnage. Across the six games, the champs outscored the Hornets by 9.2 points per 100 possessions. Last year in the first round, by way of comparison, the Lakers outscored the Thunder by 2.2 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers' four victories were by an average of over 14 points apiece. Really, only the Game One result looks strange in retrospect. The other five contests went basically as anticipated.

There are several positive things the Lakers can take from first round. After a couple early-series derps, Gasol seems to be getting back to form. Kobe Bryant's ankle appears to be fine and will benefit from three full days off before the second round starts on Monday. Andrew Bynum is once again looking monstrous. And a lot of the second-level guys came through pretty nicely. Ron Artest had a very strong series, as did Derek Fisher. Fish held up reasonably well defending CP3, which allowed Kobe not to spend too much time chasing around the Hornets' ringmaster. He also shot the ball well and did a nice job remembering to feed the post - something that hasn't always been his strong suit this year.

Next up: either the Mavericks or Trail Blazers, and by the time you're reading this it's possible we'll know which one. In the meantime, enjoy the Royal Wedding! We at Silver Screen and Roll wish a lifetime of happiness for the young couple, and we hope they take time out of their honeymoon to watch many Laker playoff wins.










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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

UPDATE: It's Dallas. Here's the schedule, courtesy of Avinash Kunnath.

Game 1 - Monday, May 2nd: Mavs at Lakers, 7:30 PM PT/10:30 PM ET, TNT
Game 2 - Wednesday, May 4th: Mavs at Lakers, 7:30 PM PT/10:30PM ET, TNT

Game 3 - Friday, May 6th: Lakers at Mavs, 6:30 PM PT/9:30PM ET, ESPN
Game 4 - Sunday, May 8th: Lakers at Mavs, 12:30 PM PT/3:30PM ET, ABC

Game 5 * Tuesday, May 10th: Mavs at Lakers, TBD TNT

Game 6 * Thursday, May 12th: Lakers at Mavs, TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Sunday, May 15th: Mavs at Lakers, 12:30 PM PT/3:30PM ET ABC
(*) If necessary.

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