Friday, April 11, 2008

Dodging a Bullet

The Hornets went into Staples tonight and played terrible basketball. They got in foul trouble early, fell behind by 30 points, and suffered some tough whistles (multiple "on the line" calls that went against them) in the fourth quarter ... and almost won the game.

The Lakers are probably happy to get the 107-104 win and stay in the mix for the top overall seed, but man, they can't feel at all good about the second half of that game. How do you let a 30 point lead get whittled all the way to four?

The answer is: poor defense (they reach more than any team I've seen this year) and horrific shot selection. The defense thing was a slight aberration as L.A. typically plays decent defense (so long as Fisher and Farmar are allowed to push and hack on the perimeter), but their shot selection is shaping up to be a fatal flaw in the playoffs. They simply have to be more patient and demand better looks. When you can get Kobe on the block or the mid-post and Gasol on the block, why would you ever settle for Fisher or Vujacic taking a contested three? It's insanity.

So to be honest, I came away more convinced about the Hornets' postseason chances than the Lakers. L.A. is relying on the return of Andrew Bynum to shore up their interior D, but that shot selection issue isn't going away. Meanwhile, the Hornets showed that they could come out sleepwalking on the road and still play it down to the wire. New Orleans also has a fatal flaw and his name is Hilton Armstrong. If Tyson Chandler gets in foul trouble, they have problems, because Armstrong is shaping up to be the worst rotation player in the entire postseason. He's the 2008 Keyon Dooling. (He's even surpassed the real Dooling).

As for the big MVP showdown, this game didn't move the dial for me at all. It would be a tremendous shame if voters reduced things down to this contest, but I'm not all that worried about it, because, as I mentioned in my previous post, I suspect that most voters decided a month ago anyway. But the truth is that both MVP frontrunners played well as Bryant nearly posted a triple double (29-10-8) while Paul struggled from the field but posted massive numbers (15-17-6 with 4 steals). Both guys delivered, so there's nothing much to glean from this one. (Translation: Paul is still my choice and it will likely remain that way unless he punches a teammate in the face next week.)

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