Commentary

Hornets more confident after Game 1

Updated: April 20, 2011, 2:41 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Every time New Orleans Hornets forward Carl Landry looks out of his downtown hotel room window across from Staples Center, he is reminded of the mission at hand.

"When you wake up in the morning, you open up the shades and there's Staples Center," Landry said. "Before you close the shades at night you see Staples Center again. It definitely gets you going. It's pretty much all you think about all day."

While many teams choose to stay close to the airport or the ocean when they come to Los Angeles, the Hornets are staying so close to Staples Center that many players, including Chris Paul, simply walked across the street before Game 1. Even their practices at USC's Galen Center are close enough that Hornets coach Monty Williams and his assistant made the two-mile walk down Figueroa Street back to the hotel afterward.

[+] EnlargeHornets
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesThe Hornets' win over the Lakers in Game 1 on Sunday has given them a confident boost heading into Game 2 on Thursday.

"It felt like an AAU game," Paul said. "But it's serious."

The Hornets' first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers may be "serious" but the Hornets' players aren't taking it too seriously. In fact they seemed as relaxed as an AAU team on a road trip leading up to Wednesday's Game 2. That much was evident the players shot around after practice with their coach, gathered as a team in the hotel lobby to watch other playoff games or sat on the side of the street and tell jokes while waiting for their bus to arrive.

"What do we got to lose?" Hornets forward Trevor Ariza said. "We're just out here playing care-free. We're just playing basketball. Nobody expected us to do anything this season."

It was understandable to expect next to nothing from the Hornets going into their first-round series against the Lakers. After all, they had lost all four games against the Lakers by an average of more than 10 points per game and lost their last meeting two weeks ago by 18 points.

Landry simply shook his head when was asked about the Hornet's 0-4 record against the Lakers this season. Two years ago, he was on an undermanned Houston Rockets team without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, going against the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. Houston was 0-4 against the Lakers during the regular season and there was no reason to expect anything less than a sweep in the playoffs. The Rockets ended up winning the first game of the series at Staples Center and taking the Lakers to seven games.

"I talked to them about that series and I'm sure it meant a lot to the guys in the locker room," Landry said. "No one gave us a chance and we took them to seven games. You just have to realize that any team can win on any given night. If the ball is falling or if you're clicking on defense, you can win. The seeds are out. I know we're [No.] 7 and they're 2 but that's over with. That was the regular season."

Paul is in a different stratosphere as a point guard today than Aaron Brooks was two years ago but Landry couldn't help but to flashback to 2009 when the Lakers hopelessly chased Brooks around the court as Paul dropped 33 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds on the Lakers in Game 1.

"We're in the same shoes I was in two years ago," Landry. "Aaron Brooks running around the court and we're playing tough defense. We were all sophomores and juniors in the league so it felt good to know it can be done. We are not happy at all. We're glad we got the first one under our belt, but on Wednesday we're looking to bring more to that game than we brought on Sunday."

Not only does Landry have the team believing the Lakers can be beaten in the playoffs but former Lakers Ariza and D.J. Mbenga are giving the Hornets a crash course on the Triangle offense and the tendencies of the Lakers' players. Ariza was on the Lakers' roster from 2008-2009 and Mbenga was with the team the past three seasons.

"Trevor has really helped us understand the nuances of the Triangle," Hornets guard Jarrett Jack said. "It's a very tricky offense and has worked for a number of years and he's done a good job putting us in the right spots defensively. D.J. has really done a good job of helping the big guys on the post and knowing where to be and putting us in the right directions."

As the Hornets worked on help side defense on Tuesday, Ariza helped backcourt players on certain plays the Lakers' run while Mbenga helped out the front court players.

"It definitely helps, because if you're not in the right place and you're making a mistake on the floor D.J. or Trevor will pull you to the side and say, 'Expect this,' or 'Don't expect that,'" Landry said. "Having those guys as teammates definitely helps. Not only playing against the Lakers but because they're good defenders. Just seeing how they get down in their stance and how D.J. defends the post and how Trevor defends Kobe, its fuel for the rest of the guys on the court."

Knowing exactly what Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are going to do, however, is no guarantee that you're going to be able stop them when they are at the top of their game which Gasol, who eight points and six rebounds in Game 1, was not on Sunday.

"I know they're going to make adjustments and play better, especially [Gasol]," Landry said. "He's going to have to have a different mentality. I'm sure he picked up the paper and watched the TV and everybody is talking about him being one of the main reasons why they lost the game so we know he's going to come out aggressive but we just got to be prepared."

Despite the Hornets' care-free attitude and the popular sentiment that they have nothing to lose, Mbenga was quick to correct Ariza following Sunday's game when he heard him say that. After winning Game 1, and being in a position to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to New Orleans, the Hornets have plenty to lose now.

"I don't agree that 'We don't have anything to lose,'" Mbenga said. "We have the game to lose. We have the series to lose. We're going to come in Wednesday to win. We didn't come in here to steal one game. We came here to win two games. We're a good team. We want to win this series and we think we're going to win this series."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com