Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, local TV and League Pass) with one other team on their mind: the Los Angeles Lakers. If there's a team the Hornets would really, really like to avoid in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, it'd be the big, long, problematic Lakers, even if L.A. is on the skids as the regular season winds down. The Lakers swept the Hornets 4-0 this season, while New Orleans managed wins against other potential opponents Dallas (N.O. leads 2-1), Oklahoma City (Thunder lead 3-1) and San Antonio (series tied 2-2).
In particular, the Hornets have nothing to do in opposition of the Lakers' big men. Memphis similarly has a strong frontcourt, with Zach Randolph racking up another 20-10 season and Marc Gasol continuing the solid play that made the 2007 Pau Gasol look less like outright theft. But Z-Bo and Marc are no Andrew Bynum, Pau and Lamar Odom; where L.A. is unending in its frontcourt depth, Memphis is, to invent a word, outlastable. (Sounds like an advanced metric for Survivor.) To wit: Though 0-4 against L.A., New Orleans is 2-1 against Memphis this year.
That's despite poor shooting in the season series by CP3, the alpha, beta, omega and zeta of the Hornets' offense. Part of New Orleans' 2010-11 survival has been owed to Paul's incredible efficiency; his True Shooting percentage is up at .585, as he's shot 47 percent from the floor and 39 percent on three-pointers. It's been rougher against Memphis, at least one two-pointers -- CP3 is shooting 40 percent from the floor against the Grizzlies.
With David West gone, Paul has to do better than that to allow the Hornets to maintain their control of the seeding wars between N.O., Memphis and Portland. With three wins in their final three games, the Hornets can capture the No. 6 seed, which would mean a date with the Thunder or Mavericks. If New Orleans slips, the Blazers will likely take control of No. 6, and the Hornets could find themselves facing the Lakers, the unbeatable foe, the vacuum of hope.