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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Lakers at Hornets: What to watch

By Andy Kamenetzky

For 24 minutes Tuesday night in Houston, it appeared the Lakers were on the verge of bouncing back from a mortifying loss to Orlando with a blowout win over a Rockets squad with consecutive home wins under its belt. After 36 minutes, it seemed the Lakers would simply have to settle for a comfortable win. After 43 minutes, a respectable, if less impressive, single-digit victory. After 47 minutes, a dogfight squeaker W.

And after 48 minutes, they settled instead for an 8-10 record and heads shaken in disbelief.

On the plus side, the Lakers have an immediate opportunity to get back on a winning track against a Hornets squad missing key players and fairly thin even at full strength. On the minus side, a win over a 5-11 squad can't even remotely be taken for granted. Either way, they'll lace up the sneaks and give it a run.

For more perspective on the Hornets, I sent some questions to Joe Gerrity, who covers the team for the TrueHoop Network's Hornets 247 blog.

Andy Kamenetzky: I realize this question could ask you to cover a lot of ground, but what are the main reasons the Hornets are struggling to win games?

Joe Gerrity: Well, they're paying about $36 million of their $63 million in total salary this season to Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Rashard Lewis and Matt Carroll. Lewis and Carroll -- both waived after arriving via trade -- have never and will never touch the floor for the Hornets. Gordon is rehabbing in L.A. and continues to have his estimated return date pushed back. Davis has played only six games so far. They're struggling to win because the team they're fielding is less talented and less experienced than the vast majority of opponents. On Monday night, for example, Brian Roberts, Austin Rivers, Xavier Henry, Lance Thomas and Jason Smith were all in the game at the same time for the Hornets.

AK: Ryan Anderson is the Hornets' leading scorer, which doesn't necessarily strike me as ideal. How much of the offense is, for the time being, centered around Anderson, and how has this affected the overall offense?

JG: I'd agree that it's not ideal, but who else could it be right now? At least Anderson, unlike Greivis Vasquez, Al-Farouq Aminu, Robin Lopez, Rivers, etc., can actually be counted on to score double digits night in and night out. Anderson is their 3-point specialist, providing spacing and scoring from the outside, and one of their better offensive rebounders. It just so happens that makes him their leading scorer.

AK: How has Lopez responded to increased offensive responsibilities, and how do you picture him matched against Dwight Howard on either side of the ball?

JG: He has handled it fine, and really, he hasn't been asked to do much more than he has in the past. The Hornets don't run many plays for Lopez, with a large chunk of his action coming courtesy of short cuts around the basket and succeeding on the offensive glass. He has been efficient in both areas this season, and the Hornets will need him to get his fair share of both to have a chance of keeping up offensively. On defense, I expect Lopez to use his larger frame to keep Howard as far away from the basket as possible, while Howard will use his superior quickness and athleticism to get free for easy dunks and layups.

AK: Is there an X factor Hornet whose performance can swing games one way or the other?

JG: Aminu, without a doubt. His thunderous alley-oops, fast-break dunks, steals and occasional shutdown defense are the kinds of things a young team needs to get rolling against a vastly more talented Lakers unit. In other words, when Aminu gets blocking, the Hornets crowd gets rocking. Unfortunately, he is just as likely to be a non-factor as the X factor.

AK: And finally, the prediction?

JG: I expect it will be a fairly close game for about a quarter and a half at best, and then the Hornets are going to get crushed. That's not the worst part, though. The stands are going to be a sea of Lakers yellow, adding insult to injury for Hornets fans already having a tough season.