New Orleans Hornets vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview and Pick

New Orleans Hornets (55-23), +3.5, o/u 212 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (54-25), -3.5, o/u 212, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, Friday
By Oracle of

Sure, if we’re talking “team” sports this game is crucial as far as the Western Conference playoff standings go, with the Lakers just 1 games behind first place New Orleans.

But the underlying story in this contest might just be the perfect anecdote to forget all the mass hysteria during this last stretch run of the NBA regular season. It’s a different kind of race that fans will be tuned into to tonight the MVP race.

Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant have emerged as the top two MVP candidates in
the league this year and they’ll square off when New Orleans travels to
the Staples Center on Friday night.

This game will go a long way in determining who will put themselves in position to lock up the No. 1 seed of the playoffs, and also who will emerge as the leading contender for the MVP.

Bookies have the Lakers 3.5-point favorites to open up with an over/under of 212.

A lot can happen for New Orleans if they were to beat the Lakers. First off, the Hornets would virtually lock up the No. 1 seed with a win because they then own the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Lakers, and losses by San Antonio (vs. Seattle) and Houston (vs. Phoenix).


Meanwhile, the Lakers can wrap up their first Pacific Division title since 2003-04 – when Shaq was still around – with a win and a Phoenix Suns loss.

All season long Paul has led the Hornets, who weren’t considered much of a playoff threat at the start of the season. He leads the league in assists (11.5) and steals (2.7). New Orleans is accustomed to winning at the Staples Center, winning their last two visits dating back to last season. They won 118-104 in Los Angeles earlier in the season in which Paul recorded an NBA season-high 21 assists.

There’s no reason Paul will slow down on Friday night against Bryant and the Lakers, as he’s averaged 26 points and 14.3 assists. His team has taken two out of three games in the season series.

The Hornets covered the two games against the Lakers when they came in as dogs. The under also came in two out of the three contests this season.

The Lakers are settling back in after Pau Gasol returned from an ankle injury a little over a week ago. Los Angeles went just 5-5 without Gasol and were 14-5 with him before the injury.

Gasol has averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds since his return five games ago, and the Lakers have gone 4-1 in that stretch. The Lakers are still without their future star in the making Andrew Bynum, who looks to be out until at least the playoffs.

These two squads are two of the best teams in terms of covering the spread. New Orleans is second in the league with a 48-28-2 mark ATS. The Lakers are a respectable fifth at 45-32-1.

Playing in back-to-back nights hasn’t affected the Lakers in recent weeks. They beat the Clippers handily last night, as the bench scored 45 points and only two starters played more than 30 minutes. They’re 5-1 ATS in their last six games played on zero days rest.

The Hornets are used to playing as slight dogs on the road, and they’ve answered the bell for bettors. They’re 8-1 ATS in their last nine when dogs of .5 to 4.5 points. They are also 5-1 ATS in their last six contests against teams from the Western Conference.

The over is a huge trend for these squads when they clash. The over is 9-2 in their last 11 head-to-head meetings, as well as 5-0 in the last five games played at the Staples Center.

One last big trend for bettors to follow is the fact that the underdog is 6-0 ATS in the last six meetings.

So as much as fans will be interested to see which team helps their playoff situation, they’ll be just as engrossed about which individual player can help their MVP status the most.

Oracle’s Pick: The public seems to think the Lakers are invincible at home. It’s hard to doubt CP3 and the crew. Take the Hornets plus the points and look for Paul to make his case for the MVP.