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.
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