Should the Los Angeles Lakers ultimately defeat the New Orleans Hornets in their playoff series, be it Thursday night in New Orleans or Saturday in L.A., they will advance to the next round of the playoffs and face the winner of the series between the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks and sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Here, we offer our scouting reports on both potential second-round opponents.
I understand now may not be the most opportune of times to look ahead, given that nothing is assured the Lakers. But, because that a series with Dallas could begin as soon as Saturday if both teams win Thursday, I wanted to get a head start. I do not intend to jinx the Lakers, however much I, as a follower of the Orlando Magic, may want to.
With those issues clarified, let's move on to the scouting.
The Lakers won the season series against both clubs, with a 2-1 edge over Dallas and 3-1 victory versus Portland, and in similar fashion: in both series, the Lakers played stout defense, namely by holding their opponents' perimeter players in check by forcing them to shoot outside the painted area.
According to NBA.com's spiffy new StatsCube database, the Lakers forced the Mavericks to take 148 shots outside the painted area, compared to just 101 inside the paint. Dallas, which shoots a ton of jumpers anyway due to its personnel, converted poorly from midrange (41 percent) and on non-corner three-pointers (22 percent on a whopping 50 attempts). Essentially, the Lakers prospered because they managed to keep Dallas' offense operating above the foul line.
As a bonus, their offense hummed against the Mavericks, scoring 111.22 points per 100 possessions, largely due to its ability to get into the lane in a way Dallas couldn't manage at the other end of the floor.
The data against Portland tell a similar tale: the Blazers shot a lot of jumpers matched up the Lakers, many of them from two-point range, at a low percentage. At the offensive end, the Lakers weren't as successful in getting inside as they were versus Dallas, but they shot an astonishing 33-of-76 (43.4 percent) on threes. Portland had no answer for the Lakers' ranged shooters, as L.A. finished above 40 percent on threes from the corner and from the top.
As the higher seed in either series, and as the two-time defending champions, the Lakers would be favored in the second round no matter whom they face. But there are reasons beyond reputation which figure into that calculus. They'll have to get past the Hornets first, but I wouldn't expect either opponent to give L.A. as much trouble as New Orleans, thanks almost entirely to Chris Paul, has.