Lakers Close Out Series With Game 6 Road Win Against Hornets, 88-80, Will Face Dallas In Second Round

The Lakers are 11-1 in their last 12 opportunities to close out a series.

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Kobe Bryant Injury Required An MRI, But Lakers Guard Expects To Play Game 5

It’s never good when a basketball fan sees “Kobe Bryant Injury” in the headlines, but the fans of the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn’t have too much to worry about when it comes to the guard’s planned MRI sometime Monday evening as Bryant himself has already said that he plans to play.

The injury in question, of course, is the rolled ankle Bryant suffered in the waning seconds of the Lakers Game 4 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday that evened the first-round NBA playoff series at two games apiece heading into Tuesday night’s pivotal Game 5. Bryant only missed 16 seconds of game-time, however, and doesn’t seem like he plans to miss anymore playing time next time out.

“I’ve played through so many of them, it kind of becomes old hat for me,” Bryant told the Orange County Register. “It’s going to take a lot to stop me from playing.”

As Tom Ziller from SB Nation NBA points out, the Lakers need Bryant to play through it because if he doesn’t play, L.A. could be in a world of hurt. Ron Artest has been the Lakers’ No. 2 scorer behind Kobe during this series and Pau Gasol is averaging just 12 points and six rebounds and shooting less than 40 percent against New Orleans.

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2011 NBA Playoffs, Lakers-Hornets: Three Keys To Game Two That Have Nothing To Do With Chris Paul Or Pau Gasol

For an NBA fan, there's little that's more irksome than seeing your team drop Game One of a playoff series at home. Not only do you find yourself immediately behind the eight ball, but the gap between games means you have to spend multiple days digesting what went wrong before the Game Two palate cleanser is served. In the case of Laker fans, they've spent the 48-plus hours since the end of the champs' 100 to 108 loss to the New Orleans Hornets pondering endless variations on the following themes:

  • What happened to Pau Gasol?
  • How are the Lakers going to slow down Chris Paul?
  • No, seriously, what's the deal with Pau?
  • CHRIS PAUL CHRIS PAUL CHRIS PAUL CHRIS PAUL.

No doubt, these are the core questions raised by the Game One shocker. But whether the Lakers can even the series Tuesday involves a broader array of issues. Here are three keys to the contest that have nothing to do with CP3 or PG16.

1.  Can Trevor Ariza make some shots? Lost amid the generally splendid Game One performance by the Hornets' role players was some calamitous shooting by Ariza. New Orleans can't count on the likes of Marco Belinelli, Willie Green and Jarrett Jack to continue scoring with blistering efficiency, so to keep pace with the Lakers they need someone else to step forward. It can't be Paul, since it's not really possible for him to play any better than he did. In all likelihood, the Hornets will need Ariza to turn four or five of his bricks into made hoops. He's a bad shooter, but he's not 2-for-13 bad.

2.  Can the Hornets break through on the offensive glass? In Game One, the Hornets turned the ball over on an incredible three percent of their plays. This, too, is something that won't happen again. There will be more empty trips this time around, so to get enough looks at the basket, they'll need to do better on the offensive boards. New Orleans collected only 13 percent of their misses on Sunday, resulting in four second-chance points. To make matters worse, one of the best offensive rebounders, Aaron Gray, is questionable for Game Two with a sprained ankle. Pressure now falls on Emeka Okafor, who fouled out of Game One after 22 minutes and just a single offensive board, to battle the Laker bigs on the glass more effectively.

3.  Is the Laker bench capable of not sucking? As we've documented extensively at Silver Screen and Roll, the Laker bench has been a model of depressing impotency. They just can't figure out how to score. Perhaps the return of Steve Blake from chickenpox quarantine will add zip to the attack. Perhaps more minutes for Trey Johnson will do the trick. Perhaps working Luke Walton into the rotation will help HAHAHAHA I'M KIDDING. (Just a joke, Phil: please do not attempt to work Luke Walton into the rotation.) One way or another, there has to be more production and accountability from the Laker reserves. If not, the starters will have to play more minutes than we and their aging legs are comfortable with.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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2011 NBA Playoffs: Health-Wise, Lakers Are In Decent Shape For Game One

At the close of the regular season, the Lakers were dealing with a shortage of healthy bodies. The bone bruise to Andrew Bynum's right knee kept him out of the regular-season finale in Sacramento. Matt Barnes missed the last two games with discomfort in the knee that underwent surgery earlier this year. Meanwhile, Steve Blake mysteriously contracted chicken pox and was quickly remanded to quarantine. This carnival of pain led the team to enlist D-Leaguer Trey Johnson as an emergency fill-in on the final night of the season.

But the Lakers caught a break when the NBA scheduled Games One and Two of their first-round series against the Hornets for Sunday and Wednesday, instead of Saturday-Monday. That's given them extra time to get guys right. Bynum practiced yesterday and, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN, has experienced no complications in his ever-fragile knees, so he's good to go for Game One. Ron Artest, though I don't think anyone knew it at the time, hyperextended his knee in Sacramento but will play on Sunday. So, perhaps, will Barnes, who had his knee drained on Thursday. Although Phil Jackson characterizes Matt's availability as "probably questionable," Matt said earlier today, "I'm playing tomorrow." Only Blake has been ruled out.

Look for Jackson to monitor Bynum's minutes carefully. Against a front line as weak as the Hornets', there shouldn't be any need to ride the big man hard right out of the gate. As for the Hornets, they're in good health. Aside from, you know, missing their second-best player in David West.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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Early Game One Tip Time Could Be Trouble For Lakers

NBA lore holds that an underdog's best chance of stealing a playoff win on the road comes in Game One. The underlying rationale weaves together a few threads, not all of them consistent: the idea that the home team sometimes comes into Game One unduly relaxed and complacent, or that all the pressure's on the favorite to hold serve, or that as a series wears on, familiarity between the teams makes it gradually harder for the underdog to overcome the talent gap with innovative strategery. I've no idea how well this conventional wisdom actually comports with reality, but it could well hold true in the case of the first-round series between the Lakers and Hornets for another reason entirely: the Game One start time.

The series tips off on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 California time. So far this season, the Lakers haven't been great at rolling out of the rack and playing ball at such an early hour. Three times they've played at Staples Center at 12:30 p.m., and all three were losses:

  • On January 16, they fell behind early to the Clippers, came back to take the lead at halftime but fell apart in the fourth quarter en route to a seven-point L.
  • On January 30, they got blasted by the Celtics, losing by 13 to their odious rivals.
  • On April 3, their 17-1 run after the All-Star break came to a crashing end when they snored through a loss to the Denver Nuggets.

As they say, three's a trend!

The Lakers actually have been pretty decent with early start times when they're out on the road. But there's something about sleeping in their own beds that's left them groggy in these Sunday matinee games. I recommend to the Laker training staff that they stock the locker room with Five Hour Energy Drink, and if that doesn't work, maybe give everyone a little pick-me-up with a cattle prod.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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