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#2 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. #7 New Orleans Hornets (46-36)

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4/17/11
 
The Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) at times showed why they are the two-time defending NBA champions during the regular season and other times looked old and lacked motivation.  When all was said and done though, the Lakers were still able to secure the second seed in the Western Conference and earned a very favorable matchup with the seventh-seeded New Orleans Hornets (46-36) in the first round of the playoffs.
 
If any opponent could enable LA center Andrew Bynum to rest his knee injury early in the series, it would be New Orleans.  The Hornets lack size inside with leading scorer and rebounder David West out after undergoing knee surgery himself, something Bynum knows all too well.  Fortunately for the Lakers, Bynum merely suffered a bone bruise in the second-to-last regular season game against San Antonio and should be ready to go in the playoffs.
 
Point guard might be the only matchup advantage New Orleans has in this series with Chris Paul going up against the aging Derek Fisher.  LA backup Steve Blake is also dealing with chicken pox, making Fisher's contributions all the more important.  The Lakers might also decide to use Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lamar Odom more in a point forward role if they go with a smaller lineup and rest Bynum.
 
Regardless of who gets the most time on the court alongside star guard Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles should be able to roll through the first round without much trouble.  Bryant will find a way to get his teammates fired up for the Hornets, knowing that a quick series will give them more rest before facing either Dallas or Portland in the second round.
 
The Lakers won their last two games of the regular season both straight-up and against the spread after losing five in a row for the first time in four years.  They had gone 17-1 right after the All-Star break and looked nearly invincible before the season-long skid.
 
New Orleans enters the playoffs on a three-game losing streak both SU and ATS.  The Hornets lost those games by an average of 22 points and dropped all four regular-season meetings with LA by an average of nearly 11.  The Lakers have won seven of the last eight games between the teams with the OVER cashing in seven of the past nine.  The total has also gone OVER in their last three games overall after going UNDER in their previous five.
 
Series Pick: Los Angeles Lakers (-2100 at Bookmaker) in 4

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