Who says a name change can't motivate an NBA team? Because the New Orleans Hornets, rumored to be changing their name to the Pelicans, need all the help they can get heading into Wednesday night's game against the Lakers.
In fact, as we'll explore later in the preview, advanced metrics can help explain why New Orleans currently ranks fifth in the Southwest Division with a dismal 5-11 record. Even so, the Lakers can ill-afford to overlook to the Hornets, especially considering their own recent road woes. In tonight's match-up, the Lakers need to exploit the Anthony Davis-less Hornets in the paint, as well as continue to run in the Mike D'Antoni's high octane offense.
In Dean Oliver's '4 measures of NBA team success', he calculated that turnovers, shooting, rebounding, and free throws each weighed separately into team winning percentage. Thus, it's easy to see why New Orleans has struggled early on, especially defensively. They rank 27th in the league in defensive rebounding and field goal percentage, as well as 23rd in defensive turnover percentage. The loss of Anthony Davis has certainly hurt the Hornets, but these defensive metrics will need to improve if they want to stop a potent Laker offense.
For LA, the key will be to attack the soft middle of the New Orleans' defense. Despite the free throw struggles, the Lakers still rank second in free throw factor at 26.6% and seventh in offensive rebounding factor at 30.7%. So if the Lakers visit the charity stripe often and bang the offensive glass, they should assert themselves offensively against New Orleans.
Keep up the pace
When Mike D'Antoni took over as Laker head man, many basketball pundits wondered how his run-and-gun style who fit in with the current Laker personnel. D'Antoni coached teams typically play fast in transition and space the floor with shooters in the half court, and those principles seem to manifest with this Laker squad. With a pace factor of 94.2, the Lakers play much more uptempo now than they did under Mike Brown. Further, the Lakers rank fifth in the league in three pointers and sixth in attempts - meaning they're spacing the floor and not hesitating to stroke from 3.
Considering the Hornets rank dead last in the league in defensive rating and 29th in pace factor, it seems unlikely they'll be able to slow down the Lakers tonight. Look for Kobe & Co. to get out to an early lead and handle the lowly Hornets.