Posted by: Wilson | July 29, 2008

Western Conference Contenders: New Orleans Hornets

CP3 and his microfiber composite ball

The Lakers will look to reclaim their Western Conference supremacy when the new season starts. With the number one seed in the playoffs, the Lakers rolled through their side of the bracket. Home court advantage clearly counts for something. Some other young teams are rising to contention in the West, and leading the pack is the New Orleans Hornets.

Just a few years removed from Oklahoma City, the most dangerous team to the Lakers right now is the Hornets. Had it not been for a slip against the Kings in their antepenultimate game of the regular season, the Hornets would have been the number one seed. Who knows what might have happened, had the Lakers played Dallas, San Antonio and then the Hornets as the number 2 seed.

The Hornets were among the team leaders in offensive rating (5th) and defensive rating (7th). The Lakers split the four regular season games, each team winning one on the road and one at home. Usually, whichever team got into foul or injury trouble lost the game. Throughout the season, these teams were very evenly matched.

New Orleans is led by the transcendent play of Chris Paul, and anchored by the reliable shooting of Peja Stojakovic and David West. The Lakers struggled to defend the pick-and-roll last season, and it enabled CP3 to run all over them. Peja and David West create problems with their perimeter range, which allows Tyson Chandler to roam in the paint. Recently added forward, James Posey, looks to bolster their thin bench, and should provide some solid production for at least a few seasons.

But, surprisingly, they still lack significant frontcourt dept. Simply, if Tyson Chandler gets into foul trouble, the team struggles. Unless the team shores up this major weakness, the Lakers will look to come out on top. With Andrew Bynum handling Chandler, West is going to have to grapple with Pau Gasol. And Lamar is going to create match up problems at his position.

Look for the Hornets and the Lakers to finish 1-2 in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

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