It wasn’t pretty.
And, Lakers fans would be nervous if we all hadn’t seen this before.
These Los Angeles Lakers are capable of dizzying highs -- like comebacks in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA finals -- and mind-blowing lows. Like losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Or, not really showing up to play defense in the first game of the playoffs and losing to the New Orleans Hornets, 109-100. Like they did Sunday.
This wasn’t supposed to be much of a series. New Orleans lost their leading scorer to a knee injury a few weeks before the end of the season, and while they still had the best pure point guard in the game -- Chris Paul -- there was little else. The Lakers should overwhelm them.
But the thing about the Lakers is if they don’t respect their opponent, they come out flat. And for all their talk of how good the Hornets were and they had to respect them, the Lakers clearly didn’t. They continued their play from the end of the regular season.
It wasn’t the Lakers offense that was the problem (althouh they once again did not get the ball inside enough), it was the defense. Which Phil Jackson described postgame as “late.” The players admitted after the game they didn’t stick to the game plan. They didn’t come in with much focus.
Credit the Hornets' Paul, he played brilliantly (31 points, 14 assists). On the pick and roll, during the season when these teams played, if the Laker big men aggressively came out on him he tended to back up and reset, or try to make a quick pass to make a play. The Lakers got the ball out of his hands, which is a key reason they swept the season series. But Sunday Paul did not give up his dribble in that situation, in fact he pulled away parallel to the screen and forced the Lakers to switch a lot, which left Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum trying to stop Paul and let guys like Aaron Gray run wild in the paint.
It’s hard to get too worried because during the Lakers run of back-to-back championships and three straight trips to the finals, they have pulled out a number of these games. Remember the series when the Yao-less Houston Rockets pushed them seven games. The Lakers can be sloppy. They do it in the regular season and playoffs.
One loss at home, while not good, is not something to worry about. The Hornets have the Lakers full attention now. The teams face off again Wednesday at Staples Center.
However, two losses to start the series and you can start looking around for that panic button.
Kurt Helin lives in Long Beach and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter)
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