Lakers Vs. Hornets: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul Square Off

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers begin their quest for a third straight NBA title against Chris Paul and the Hornets.

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Lakers Vs. Hornets, NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul Must Carry New Orleans Offense

While the Miami Heat are the only team with a top-5 offense and defense, the L.A. Lakers aren't far behind, boasting the NBA's No. 6 offense and No. 6 defense. It's not surprising, because the Lakers have some great two-way players, including Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. (Ron Artest is often cited as a two-way player, but his offense stinks. Pau Gasol's defense isn't bad, but the Lakers gain most value from him on offense.)

The New Orleans Hornets, who tip off their 2011 NBA Playoffs first round series on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, are, on the other hand, completely imbalanced. Coach Monty Williams has given New Orleans an identity predicated on defense, which has allowed the Hornets to at times excel and dominate opponents. Unfortunately, it's come at the expense of offense, where the Hornets rank just No. 19 in the league.

New Orleans' defense has actually slipped since David West was replaced by Carl Landry due to injury. But the Hornets continue to do three things really well: force turnovers (No. 6 in NBA), rebound opponent misses (No. 2) and limit fouls (No. 9). The Lakers' offense however, excels at limiting turnovers and offensive rebounding, however, so those will be flashpoints in the series. Can Emeka Okafor keep Bynum and Gasol off the glass? Can Chris Paul force Derek Fisher and Steve Blake into turnovers?

On the other end, the Lakers' excellent shot defense will likely pose serious problems for New Orleans, whose offense goes through long spells of inefficiency. Paul will need to be a major scoring threat for the Hornets to threaten on a game-by-game basis, and that could allow the Lakers to offer special attention his way.

All data from Basketball-Reference.com. Check out our Lakers vs. Hornets hub.

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NBA Playoff Odds, Lakers Vs. Hornets: Reigning Champs Overwhelming Favorites

Only one team -- the Indiana Pacers -- are bigger underdogs than the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, according to odds posted by Bodog. The gambling site lists the Los Angeles Lakers as 1/20 favorites for the team's series against the Hornets, which tips off at the Staples Center on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. The Hornets are 12/1 underdogs in the series.

The Hornets have been erratic all year, and the season's end was no exception; New Orleans went on a solid run to lock up a spot in the postseason, but fell apart in the final games, slipping to the No. 7 seed. The Memphis Grizzlies had a chance to fill in the No. 7 seed on the final day of the regular season, but submitted to the Clippers in order to avoid the Lakers.

Vegas thinks that was a good idea: the Lakers are 11/4 favorites to win the title, says Bodog, and even money to win the West.

Follow our Lakers vs. Hornets hub.

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NBA Playoff Schedule, Lakers Vs. Hornets: L.A.'s Three-Peat Quest Begins Sunday

The Los Angeles Lakers will begin their quest for a third consecutive title on Sunday when their 2011 NBA Playoffs series against the New Orleans Hornets tips off at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. The Lakers were challenged in the first round a year ago, with the Oklahoma City Thunder nearly taking L.A. to a Game 7. Whether the Hornets, who lost David West to injury late in the season and have been swooning a bit, can make the Lakers sweat is left to be seen.

Here's the full series schedule:

Game 1: Sun., April 17 in L.A., 3:30 p.m., ABC
Game 2: Wed., April 20 in L.A.,10:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Fri., April 22 in New Orleans, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Sun., April 24 in New Orleans, 9:30 p.m., TNT
Game 5: Tue., April 26 in L.A.. TBD
Game 6: Thu., April 28 in New Orleans, TBD
Game 7: Sat., April 30 in L.A., TBD, TNT

Check out the complete NBA playoff schedule.

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NBA Playoff Predictions, Lakers Vs. Hornets: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul Square Off

The Los Angeles Lakers snuck into the No. 2 seed in the West bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs with tight victories over the San Antonio Spurs' JV squad and the lowly Sacramento Kings in possibly the final game in Sacramento. Their reward is a date with the No. 7 seed New Orleans Hornets, who appear to be the weakest team in the West on paper. Still, as long as they have Chris Paul, they have a chance, even if David West is injured.

UPSET POTENTIAL

Very slim. The Hornets are shorthanded without West, and the Lakers' stifling strong-side zone defense should be able to corral Paul enough to win. Now that Andrew Bynum is going to be healthy for the playoffs, the Lakers' size should overwhelm an undersized Hornets frontcourt. Paul is the Hornets' only trump card, and even he has a lot to prove after struggling the last time the Hornets made the playoffs.

ANOINTMENT INVITATION

This is a big series for Carl Landry. The Hornets' forward went from being tremendously underrated to very overrated after a tough spell with the Kings. A trade to New Orleans, combined with West's injury, gives Landry an opportunity to show off his toughness in the paint. 

As for the Lakers, Bynum, if healthy, should dominate this series going against the undersized Emeka Okafor.

HINTS FOR THE FUTURE

The Lakers should easily beat the Hornets ... and that could be a problem. We all know the Lakers' propensity for playing down to the level of their competition. Last year, they were able to avoid that problem because they got a major test from Oklahoma City. That series woke the Lakers up and allowed them to maintain the right intensity going forward. The Hornets, though, don't provide the same kind of threat. Can the Lakers get their game in order despite that? If not, it's a bad sign for the future.

As for the Hornets, we all know the Chris Paul watch will be ongoing once they inevitably lose this series.

MAINSTREAM MEME ALERT

Are the Lakers bored? Is Kobe Bryant being too selfish? What's wrong with Pau Gasol? Where will Chris Paul go next year? Isn't it sad how Paul has no help? C'mon, this was too easy.

FINAL PREDICTION

Lakers in five, giving away one game while rolling in the other four. 

AND ONE

Be sure to bookmark our Lakers vs. Hornets section. For Hornets analysis, visit At the Hive. For more on the Lakers, check out Silver Screen and Roll and SB Nation Los Angeles.

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