Leading up to the start of the 2014 NBA season, Swarm and Sting will be pitting the Hornets head to head with every team in the Association every Tuesday and Thursday. In this edition, we match the Hornets up with the Los Angeles Lakers.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte and Los Angeles split the series, 1-1.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
This match-up would have been fantastic just two years ago. Unfortunately, Father Time may have finally caught up to Steve Nash, as well as injuries, hampering his quickness and scoring ability. Steve Nash is still an excellent distributor of the basketball, however, and that facet of his game will continue to make him dangerous, as it’s difficult to scout pure vision. Kemba Walker’s athleticism is just too much for Nash, though. Walker’s speed, shooting, driving, and cutting would be too much for many of the NBA’s younger point guards to handle, let alone a 40 year old. That’s no disrespect to Steve Nash; he’s still an all-time great point guard. At this moment, though, Kemba is simply too much for him to handle.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
Is there a more polarizing figure in Charlotte than Kobe Bryant? Bryant’s offseason tweets show there is definitely no love lost between the Black Mamba and the Hornets. Bryant is another all-time great in Los Angeles’ backcourt that has struggled with injuries in the past two seasons. Kobe put up identical scoring numbers for the Lakers in his 6 starts last year as Lance Stephenson did in a full season for Indiana, but just seemed a step behind before finding himself injured for another year. It’s difficult to predict this match-up because we simply don’t know which Kobe Bryant will show up for the Lakers. Mitch Kupchak stated that Kobe Bryant is indeed 100%, and if that is the case, I have to give him the nod over Lance Stephenson. While Lance holds the youthful edge over Kobe, there are few players in NBA history who are as dangerous as Kobe Bryant. On any given night, Kobe can score 30-40, while maintaining his underrated knack for distributing assists. There are few players in the NBA who are as downright terrifying at 100% as Kobe Bryant.
ADVANTAGE: Kobe Bryant
One look at the scoreline would make one believe that Nick Young is easily the better player in this match-up, but the eye test makes this showdown slightly more difficult. While “Swaggy P” was the Lakers’ leading scorer in 2013-2014, his lackadaisical two-way play and his affinity for chucking devalue him as a player. Meanwhile, in Charlotte, MKG solidified himself as a defensive stud, despite his offensive inefficiencies. This match-up is basically weighing the value of offense versus the value of defense. Nick Young’s numbers should take a slight hit if Kobe plays a full season, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the anchor of Steve Clifford’s tried and true defensive scheme. Based on how important each is to his respective team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wins this match-up with his tenacious D.
ADVANTAGE: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
This will be a battle of Tobacco Road foes in the series, as Marvin Williams and Carlos Boozer face off in a North Carolina-Duke match-up. Carlos Boozer was waived by the Bulls despite solid numbers this past season, and Marvin Williams will be competing with Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh for a starting job in Charlotte. Boozer will be immediate relief at power forward for the Lakers, replacing Pau Gasol at the 4. He can score effectively, clean up boards, and despite his age, he can still play at a high level. Williams, while solid, won’t be as important to the Hornets’ success as Boozer will be to the Lakers’.
ADVANTAGE: Carlos Boozer
Jordan Hill is a serviceable starting center, especially with some of the talent surrounding him, but Al Jefferson is simply better. In virtually every facet of the game, Al Jefferson is a more talented center than Jordan Hill. That’s not to disrespect Hill; there just simply aren’t too many centers in the NBA who can match Big Al.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Los Angeles): Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Robert Sacre
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. While the Lakers did a rather impressive job of adding talent to their bench via free agency and the NBA Draft, the Hornets improved an already talented supporting cast. The Lakers added Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, and Ed Davis, three potential starters,while the Hornets added Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams (or Cody Zeller, depending on the starter), and PJ Hairston, while Gerald Henderson was pushed back to (presumably) the 6th man role. Both of these teams have depth, which should make for entertaining games, even when the second units are out.
Rookies (Los Angeles): Julius Randle
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. Julius Randle will most likely be the best player out of these three rookies, but Charlotte got two exciting players in the first round, both of whom filled gigantic needs for the Hornets. Randle will benefit from his current role in the long term (playing under Carlos Boozer will be an excellent way to learn the game), Vonleh and Hairston can make an immediate impact for the Hornets, who are in full win-now mode.
FINAL VERDICT: Charlotte has historically owned Los Angeles, and that won’t change in the upcoming season. The Hornets are continuing to improve, while the Lakers are currently in recovery mode after a disastrous 2013-2014 campaign. Charlotte’s defense, bench, and coaching will lead them to a series victory over the Lakers, even if Los Angeles’ backcourt is at 100% health.
PREDICTION: Charlotte sweeps Los Angeles, 2-0.
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