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Lakers Vs. Hornets Game 6: Pau Gasol, Emeka Okafor, & The New Orleans Bench Are Three Key Factors

The Lakers have a chance to close out the Hornets Thursday night in Game 6. We already have a reasonable idea what to expect from the two stars tonight. Chris Paul is going to have his way with Derek Fisher and fill up the stat sheet, while Kobe Bryant has scored 30 or more points in an NBA record eight consecutive close-out opportunities on the road. However, the key to tonight's game might just come from these three factors:

Pau Gasol: The Spaniard has had a rough series, averaging just 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds, but he has improved after dreadful games in the first two at Staples Center. In the last three games of the series, Gasol has averaged 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. In general, he has been more engaged in the last three games, and he put up 17-10 and 16-8 in the last two Lakers' wins.

Emeka Okafor: The Hornets' center, generally good for roughly 10 points and 10 rebounds per night throughout his NBA career, has not had a good series to say the least. Okafor is putting up 7.4 points and 5.4 boards so far against the Lakers, and has nearly as many personal fouls (23) as rebounds (26) in the series. He has 13 defensive rebounds in 157 minutes. The folks at the SB Nation Hornets' blog At The Hive wonder what happened:

Remember the movie Space Jam? (That's a rhetorical question, of course you remember the greatest movie of all time). I'm starting to wonder if the aliens sucked the talent out of Emeka Okafor's body before this series.

The Hornets Bench: New Orleans reserves murdered the Lakers with 39 points in their Game 1 upset win, shooting an amazing 72.7% (16-for-22) from the field. However, since then the Hornets' bench has scored 54 total points in four games, shooting 33.9% from the field. Will the reserves lift the Hornets tonight?

Tonight's 5 p.m. PDT game will be televised by both TNT and KCAL.

For more news on this first-round matchup, be sure to stay tuned to this story stream at SB Nation Los Angeles. For more NBA playoff coverage, check out SB Nation's playoff bracket and schedule. For more news and information on the Lakers, be sure to read the SB Nation blog Silver Screen and Roll.