Some things to watch when the Lakers (31-20) host the New Orleans Hornets (13-38) at 12:30 p.m. PDT today at Staples Center.
1. The Lakers need a psychological pick-me-up. A victory over the Western Conference’s worst team won’t solve the Lakers’ problems. They’re just coming off a week that wasn’t much fun for the purple and gold. The Lakers’ loss Sunday to Memphis included the team getting outworked and the Kobe Bryant benching controversy. They topped that off with a middling road win against Golden State that featured Andrew Bynum getting benched for taking an ill-advised three-pointer. Then the team got an eye-opening reminder that they can’t contend with the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Beating New Orleans wouldn’t erase any of that, especially when the Hornets are fielding an injury-depleted lineup of Trevor Ariza (ankle), Gustavo Ayon, Jarrett Jack (ankle), Chris Kaman (illness), Eric Gordon (knee) and Emeka Okafor (knee). But at least a quality performance could put the Lakers in better spirits.
2. The Lakers need to show some effort. The main reason why the Lakers have lost so many double-digit leads, including two weeks ago against New Orleans, appears to have a lot to do with the team just going through the motions. Taking a short-cut approach has resulted in stagnant ball movement, isolation plays, little effort in boxing out on the glass and a failure to get back in transition. For all the struggles the Hornets have had in winning games, they’ve at least kept several of them close through nothing more glamorous than hard work.
3. Will this game help Ramon Sessions iron out his adjustment to the offense? Sessions’ past two double-digit performances show he’s hit a wall in his comfort level with the offense. Lakers Coach Mike Brown has mentioned in recent days that he wants Sessions blending in a mix of assuming ball handling duties and moving off the ball, with the balance tilted more toward the former. It’s proved an adjustment for all parties, including Bryant getting looks when he’s not handling the rock and setting up Bynum and Pau Gasol in the post.
Still, as much as it’s necessary to feature the Big Three, the Lakers shouldn’t fix what apparently isn’t broken. Run the offense through Sessions with his speed and pick-and-roll execution.
4. Can the Lakers return to their defensive principles? The Hornets rank second to last in total offense (89.24 points), so on paper, it doesn’t appear to be much of a challenge stopping them. However, the Lakers have dropped off defensively since Sessions’ arrival. They’ve given up more points (99.5 compared with 93.4) and allowed opponents to shoot better (45.2% to 42.7%). Considering that the Lakers likely won’t be tested on defense, it remains to be seen how they’ll handle the situation. Either they’ll view it as an opportunity to sharpen their fundamentals or they’ll use it an excuse to cut corners again.
5. Can the Lakers starters wrap their ice bags? Brown argues that he can’t really afford to limit his starters’ minutes, including Bryant’s, because the playoffs are approaching. Well, here’s the perfect opportunity. Brown can say his players have enough energy, but it’s a dicey gamble to take for granted that a veteran-laden team can absorb that much only a month away from the postseason.