Kobe Bryant is marching deeper into his 30s, but he's still on top of the NBA, a sure-bet first team All NBA choice (though perhaps Dywane Wade deserves the spot over him) and the obvious leader of an obvious title favorite. The buzz received this season has been lower -- not enough buzzer beaters? -- but no one doubts Kobe, especially Playoff Kobe.
But he isn't the reason so few give the New Orleans Hornets a shot over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers' big men are, with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom representing the best frontcourt in basketball, and making teams like the Hornets quiver. The Hornets counter with the solid Emeka Okafor, scoring Carl Landry and ... Aaron Gray? Jason Smith? It's a big mismatch, even if Okafor and Landry play well.
And that's why Chris Paul and Kobe are so important. CP3 has so much work to do to lift his inferior teammates to a level at which the Lakers are threatened; otherwise, he'll be forced a score by bucket and pail to keep up. New Orleans' defense has been solid (though it slipped when David West's injury added Landry to the starting five), but handling the Lakers' offense is a tall task for even the best stoppers. Assuming former Laker Trevor Ariza checks Kobe and Okafor takes Bynum, L.A. has a couple mismatches remaining. The Lakers abused mismatches, and had the No. 6 offense in the NBA this season. It's a tough mountain to climb.
The Lakers host the Hornets beginning at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. For our full series preview, check out our Lakers vs. Hornets hub. For more on the Lakers, visit Silver Screen And Roll and SB Nation Los Angeles. For more on the Hornets, visit At The Hive.