By Lee Jenkins
April 14, 2011

Kobe Bryant once called the Lakers schizophrenic, and once again, it's hard to get a read on their true personality. Are they the two-time champions who won 17 of 18 games out of the All-Star break and can exploit a size advantage against anyone they face? Or are they the complacent and short-handed unit that lost the top seed in the Western Conference, dropped five games in a row this month and watched Andrew Bynum hobble off Tuesday with a bruised knee? The Lakers (57-25) should be able to get their bearings in the first round against the Hornets (46-36), who lost all four meetings with the Lakers this season, and won't have David West because of his torn ACL. Like the Lakers, the Hornets are limping into the playoffs, and will need a dominant series from Chris Paul to compete.


Chris Paul vs. Derek Fisher. When the Lakers get in trouble, it's often because of an ultra-quick point guard who is able to fly past Fisher and break down their defense. Just as the Lakers enjoy a decisive edge in the post, the Hornets should have one at the point, with Paul against the 36-year-old Fisher. The Lakers signed Steve Blake to spell Fisher in this kind of situation, but Blake is recovering from the chickenpox. Fisher traditionally performs better in the postseason and he will have to summon all his playoff guile to keep up with Paul.


Lakers: Andrew Bynum. Since the All-Star break, Bynum has played the best basketball of his career, averaging 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks to go along with 11.2 points. The question is whether he can continue at that pace after his recent bone bruise. If he can, the Hornets will not be able to match up with the Lakers' front line.

Hornets: Trevor Ariza. Two years ago, Ariza boosted the Lakers to a championship, and then they let him sign as a free agent with Houston, a move that both parties would probably do over if they could. Traded again last summer, to New Orleans, the Los Angeles native and defensive stopper comes home with much to prove.


As poorly as the Lakers have played this month, they came away with the best draw they could have hoped for. The Hornets offer a reprieve, a chance for the Lakers to regain momentum as they aim for a third straight championship. Paul will present many challenges, but without West, the Hornets do not have enough scoring punch. Convincing the Hornets that they can win, after losing four in a row to the Lakers and three in a row to finish the season, will be a chore for first-year coach Monty Williams. Lakers in 5.

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