LOS ANGELES (AP) – Chris Paul is a problem for just about any opponent’s defense. As the New Orleans point guard proved in the Hornets’ playoff opener, he’s a particular conundrum for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers have spent the past two days scheming ways to slow down the four-time All-Star in Game 2 on Wednesday night after he torched them for 33 points and 14 assists in the Hornets’ series-opening victory.
“It’s always a challenge, but I feel like we can do a much better job,” Kobe Bryant said Tuesday after a second straight lengthy practice day for the Lakers.
After two days of evaluation, the Lakers confirm their worst fears about Paul’s abilities were realized in Game 1. The Lakers are not particularly well-equipped to counter what Paul does well, and Bryant said they’ll need more than one player paying attention to Paul on every play just to slow him.
“One of our biggest problems was there was a lack of communication defensively,” said Lamar Odom, who managed just one rebound in Game 1. “We’ve got to try to trap this kid as much as possible, make it as tough on him as we can.”
So why is Paul such a nightmare for the Lakers? It’s not just because they obviously lack a strong defender at point guard: Derek Fisher is years past his speediest form, while backup Steve Blake just returned to practice Monday after a week off the court with a bout of chicken pox.
It’s because the Lakers’ greatest physical asset is their size, and Paul’s poised speed negates much of that. Almost nobody in the NBA can keep up with Paul one-on-one, forcing the Lakers to commit more of their defensive resources to Paul.
“We can’t let him have a lot of space to dictate and decide what he wants to do,” said center Andrew Bynum, who blocked two shots in Game 1.
Los Angeles’ pick-and-roll defense has been excellent at times during the season, but coach Phil Jackson said Paul’s basketball sense makes the Hornets’ favorite play particularly tough to contain. No matter how the Lakers approach it, Paul can find a way to exploit it, either with a quick drive or a savvy pass.
“He attacks in the pick-and-roll,” New Orleans reserve Willie Green said. “He can split it, he can shoot the jumper, so he can create a lot of problems. I’m sure the Lakers are going to do a good job of adjusting, making him kick the ball out and have other guys beat them, so we’ve just got to be prepared for their adjustments and try to continue to attack.”
Paul and Hornets coach Monty Williams appeared to work together well in Game 1, with Williams noting several instances in which Paul had already called out the play Williams was preparing to send in to his players.
Near the close of an impressive rookie coaching season, Williams is still learning the best ways to help Paul. Sometimes the coach will call plays, but he’ll also allow Paul to run the show.
“It’s been tough on him because I, at times, have messed it up trying to call too many sets,” Williams said. “I think a lot of times it happened because when you have someone like (injured scoring leader) David West on the floor, you want to take advantage of both.
“(Now) I’m just watching him. I watch and I watch,” Williams added. “He’ll look at me and we’ll have something, but I have to help him out as best I can and try to put him in positions where teams can’t take him out, which is hard. But having him on the floor has made me look better as a coach than I should, that’s for sure.”
Paul is coming off lowest-scoring season of his career, with fans questioning his commitment to New Orleans after his infamous wedding toast to a future partnership with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York. Paul said he “tried to have a different intensity” when the playoffs began, mostly to show his less-experienced teammates how it’s done.
Did he ever.
Between his baskets and assists, Paul was directly responsible for nearly 58 percent of the Hornets’ points in Game 1. He relentlessly broke down the Lakers off the dribble, usually after a pick-and-roll.
Paul did most of his ball distribution in the first half with 10 assists while the Hornets made nearly 60 percent of their shots, but he took over as a scorer down the stretch with 17 points in the fourth quarter. Paul also had seven rebounds and four steals with just two turnovers.
Paul is just the fourth player in the past 20 seasons to record at least 33 points and 14 assists in a playoff game. Although Williams’ game plan baffled the Lakers, he knew he couldn’t take credit for all of Paul’s brilliance.
“He did some things that I didn’t coach,” Williams said. “I didn’t show him how to do it, for sure. He’s an exceptional player, and he’s hard to guard. It’s going to be paramount for the rest of our team to help him out, because they’re not going to allow him easy looks. I don’t think they did (in Game 1). I thought Chris hit tough shots. He’s paid to make tough shots. People forget that, and he does it well most nights.”
NOTES: Hornets C Aaron Gray, who scored a season-high 12 points in Game 1, still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play with his sprained right ankle. “It’s hard here in practice just watching the guys go and having to kind of be on the sideline,” Gray said Tuesday. “That’s definitely difficult, so I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like (to sit out) during the game. Hopefully we’re not at that point.”
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