After a needlessly overwrought season that seemed to start all the way back in July with LeBron James' "Decision," the playoffs are finally here. After months of waiting, we're at a point where we don't have to qualify every on-or off-court decision with the caveat that reminds us that we're not yet at playoff time. No, we're at playoff time. It's the freakin' playoffs, cats and kittens, and I can hear your goosebumps popping from here. Gross.
Up next, we feature the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets.
This is a series that shouldn't be a walk for Los Angeles, but probably will be.
Well, it should be a walk, then it shouldn't be a walk, and then it probably will end up being a walk. So much walking.
New Orleans' roster, even when it had David West around, and even considering Los Angeles' rather thin bench, is pretty overmatched against the two-time defending champions. This is a Hornets team that struggles to score, that runs some terribly inefficient one-way players up and down the court for heavy minutes, while relying on Chris Paul to remind us of how things were for him when he was the best point guard in the NBA.
Then again, you'd think someone like Paul should be able to carry his team to a few wins. The guy can be a dominant force at the position that Los Angeles has never been able to defend, and even if the Lakers pull off a sweep, there's no reason why New Orleans couldn't go down in four straight two-possession games.
Now we're back to the start -- Paul, though brilliant at times this season, hasn't shown the inclination often enough to carry his offensively challenged team when they need him to dominate the ball and score or dish at will. CP3 just hasn't been there when New Orleans has needed him the most. He's had good games against the Lakers this year, managing a 21-point, 15-assist night in a close loss to Los Angeles last winter, but took just 41 shots in four losses to the champs this year. New Orleans won't stand a chance, even with Los Angeles still getting its act together, if that holds up.
As it stands, this is the perfect first-round opponent for Los Angeles, presuming they treat it right. If they roll by sustaining bad habits, then the whole exercise will be a waste. If they move the ball, push the bigs to rebound and move their feet, and not act stiflingly predictable down the stretch of games? Then we could see the re-launch that sparks a third-straight championship.
Los Angeles' call.
My call? Lakers in four.
Welcome back to "PLAAAAAAAAAAYOFFS!" It's that time of year again, sports fans! This postseason, who will survive and thrive? Who will spit the bit? And who's going to come up with a third thing that rhymes?
Here to give you their made-up takes on the key X-factors, O-multiples and Zeeman effects of Lakers/Hornets are 7-foot-4 Utah Jazz center-turned-celebrity motivational speaker Mark Eaton and 310-year veteran/olde-tyme crustbucket Ol' Man Howard!
Ol' Man Howard: Begin discussing Los Angeles and New Orleans.
Mark Eaton: Well, friend, it probably won't surprise you very much at all to learn that, to me, this series begins and ends with Pau Gasol.
OMH: Sensible thing to say. The goated beardsman starts and finishes most games.
ME: True enough, but I mean that he's the key piece to the series.
OMH: I now divine your meaning, and would hear you further your tale.
ME: Dynamite. Andrew Bynum could be a bit ginger coming back from his knee injury and Lamar Odom, as gifted as he is, has never quite been a sure thing …
OMH: His passions oft-determined, as they are, by candy and famed womenfolk …
ME: I don't expect both Bynum and Odom to struggle against a very undersized Hornets front line, but if they do at any point, Gasol has to be the steady hand. If he's his usual 18-and-10 or better, the Lakers sweep. If he's not, Chris Paul could steal an early game, which would complicate matters. How do you see it playing out?
OMH: Never had much use for that kind of language, but I've never had any use for whatever a "Marco Belinelli" is. Lakers in four.
ME: I love crawfish. Lakers in five.
Eric Freeman's Reputation Index
The regular season counts, but the postseason is where reputations are made. Tracy McGrady never won a playoff series and will always be seen as a disappointment. Derek Fisher lacks several fundamental basketball skills but will always be seen as a champion because he makes big shots when it counts. Chauncey Billups owes his entire nickname to the 2004 playoffs. The point being that playoff performance skews national perception of NBA players beyond all reason. In that vein, behold the BDL Reputations Index, your guide to what's at stake for the top names in the first round.
Chris Paul: Once upon a time, Chris Paul was considered the best point guard in the NBA. Several injuries later, he now appears to be No. 2 in the popular estimation behind Derrick Rose. Never mind that Paul still does more with less than anyone else, and that he would likely still be the first choice to start at the point on the next Team USA.
Without David West, the Hornets have virtually no chance of winning this series. However, with Derek Fisher defending him for a full series, CP3 can reassert himself as the dean of NBA point guards. Paul has never been an especially prolific scorer, but he should be able to get into the paint at will against the Lakers. If he can't, then you may see some more chatter about how he's lost a step.
Hugo the Hornet: In the mid-'90s, Hugo was one of the freshest mascots on the block. In the past decade, though, his teal coloring and general antics have appeared to be relics from another era. New Orleans will probably only have two home games in this series, so Hugo will have to make an impact whenever he can. Does he have the zings to take down Kobe? Or will he fail and make it clear that it's time for the franchise to interview new candidates and concepts for their mascot needs.
Lamar Odom: You wouldn't know it from the constant Kardashian jokes and his new reality show (which, it should be pointed out, are virtually the same thing), but Odom has arguably been the Lakers' most consistent high-level performer of the season. Once viewed as a quasi-bust who would never fulfill his considerable potential, Lamar has become the kind of swing forward who can contribute in literally every aspect of the game. A sterling playoffs, starting with a great series against New Orleans, would make him a universally respected athlete in addition to the brunt of jokes. I wish I could say he wouldn't get mocked, but, well, I watched "Khloe and Lamar" last weekend.
Andrew Bynum: The Lakers are defending champions, and Andrew Bynum has been an important but not entirely effective performer in each playoff run. Those struggles have been partially due to nagging injuries -- another potential issue this spring -- but in that span Bynum has gone from a potential future star to a player who seems most valuable because he forms an unbeatable trio with two other very tall fellows in Odom and Pau Gasol. A strong series against Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry would do much to repair Bynum's image and potentially make him a major part of any post-Kobe plans in Los Angeles.
Lakers in five games.