Hornets 105, Lakers 89

It has to be incredibly disappointing for Lakers fans when the Hornets put a lineup of Chris Paul, Jannero Pargo, Rasual Butler, Desmond Mason and Tyson Chandler on the floor for most of the game and the Lakers can’t pick that group apart on offense or stop them on defense.

They settled for shooting 3s on offense – - 1 of 9 in the fourth quarter – - and had no choice but to play a zone on defense just to keep Paul out of the lane.

“We started settling for outside shots,” Luke Walton said. “Kobe’s ankle was hurting but he played great tonight. He gave us everything he could. They had a small lineup out there a lot, too. Instead of pounding the ball inside and just beating them down there – - we did it every once in awhile and then we’d start shooting jumpshots. We’ve got to recognize that as a team and correct that.”

Hard to imagine how bad that might have been had Kobe Bryant not played. I asked Bryant afterward if he would have liked the chance to take Paul late in that game had his ankle been 100 percent. Bryant’s size might have been the one thing that could have caused Paul problems.

“I would have looked forward to it,” Bryant said. “We had a chance to talk a lot over the summer, so I know him fairly well. I love his game and I also love the challenge of guarding players of his caliber.”

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By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

Talking about his sprained right ankle at Wednesdays shootaround, Kobe Bryant offered the assessment that it “looks worse than it feels. The same could not be said of the Lakers 105-89 loss to the New Orleans Hornets with Bryant in the lineup.

With Bryant playing at 50 percent on the ankle, Lamar Odom committing a junior-high school turnover down the stretch and Chris Paul penetrating at will, the Lakers suffered a loss that both looked and felt terrible.

The Hornets arrived at Staples Center having lost five games in a row and were playing without three of their four top scorers. Yet the Lakers had no answer for Paul, who totaled 26 points and 11 assists, and were outrebounded 49-31.

By the fourth quarter, the Lakers were left to throw up their hands and settle into a zone defense to keep Paul out of the lane.

The Lakers also couldnt capitalize even as the Hornets played most of the game with four guards on the floor. They gave up 20 offensive rebounds and made just 3 of 19 3-pointers.

Bryant finished with 24 points on 10 of 17 shooting in 37 minutes. He was unable to attack the basket with the injured ankle but was the Lakers most effective player despite being reduced to a shooter.

“I couldnt run like I normally do or explode or get to the basket and things like that, Bryant said. “Theres certain holes in the defense that Ill make sure to capitalize on next time we play them if Im healthy.

It was the Lakers first home loss to a Western Conference team, with coach Phil Jackson reminded of next weeks schedule – - San Antonio, at Houston, at Dallas, Houston – - after the game.

“Were not in competition with San Antonio yet, Jackson said. “This team isnt at that level. We havent showed we can play at that level of a game.

“So those games, we just have to play above our experience and our precision that we normally do and we have to bring a lot more to the game than we showed tonight.

When he wasnt getting in the lane and causing havoc, Paul was finding Tyson Chandler rolling to the basket for alley-oop dunks. As Lakers forward Luke Walton said afterward, “Every play they run is a pick and roll for (Paul).

The Lakers eventually gave up and opted for the zone. Rasual Butler hit a 13-footer with 2:42 left and the shot clock expiring. Former Laker Jannero Pargo followed by burying an open 3-pointer that put the Hornets ahead 98-87 and the game out of reach.

“Penetration – - its a killer, Jackson said. “We couldnt stop Paul, we picked him up, dropped back off him, tried to do a variety of things against him and he found penetration.

Odom, meanwhile, walked into the locker room complaining of a head cold and had seven turnovers in the game. The last was one of the most mindless plays Jackson had ever seen.

With 4:38 remaining in a six-point game, Odom went to inbound the ball to Smush Parker underneath the Lakers basket. But Odom instead dribbled the ball across the baseline as if he was going to bring it up himself. Inbound violation, Odom.

“Lamar made one of the most unusual plays Ive ever seen in basketball, Jackson said. “I think Ive seen it once before in . . . thousands of games.

He was asked what game. “Probably junior high school, Jackson answered.

Odom said: “I played bad the whole game, so Im not surprised by it at all.

The guard trio of Paul, Butler and Pargo combined to score 69 points. Butler came into Wednesday averaging 6.7 points and Pargo was averaging 6.6. The Lakers released Pargo in the 2003-04 season, a decision Jackson wrote about regretting in his best-seller “The Last Season.

The Hornets were playing without Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson – - their Nos. 2-4 scorers behind Paul – - all of whom were injured. They ranked 28th in the league in scoring and 29th in shooting.

The Lakers fell behind 64-58 midway through the third quarter when Jackson made wholesale changes. He brought Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar and Maurice Evans off the bench while Odom, Kwame Brown and Smush Parker took a seat.

Teenage center Andrew Bynum played only seven minutes, none in the second half. Brown finished with nine points and nine rebounds but fell victim to Jacksons theory that “confusion limits activity.

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