You know who's getting really good? That Kemba Walker guy. At this point, the All-Star campaign might gain some legitimate traction over the next few days, and I'm finding myself thinking fairly regularly that he's probably going to deserve the honor.
Games like tonight's 108-98 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers are exactly the reason why many around the league are taking Kemba seriously as a legitimate All-Star candidate. In a game where some of the Hornets struggled a bit (especially from beyond the arc), Kemba took control of the team, scoring 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting (and 3-of-6 from three), grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out five dimes. He was an issue on the defensive end too, stealing the ball away three times, and using his high-intensity style to have one of his most destructive defensive efforts of the year. Fifteen of Kemba Walker's points came in the fourth quarter, a 12-minute period when the Lakers scored 17 points.
Good thing the Hornets are more than just their All-Star point guard (YEAH, I SAID IT). Cody Zeller had one of his best games of the season, matched up against none other than defensive stalwart Roy Hibbert, scoring 16 on 8-of-10 shooting. Nicolas Batum, despite a weak shooting night from him (7-of-17 from the floor), still finished with 15 points, but more importantly helped his teammates get into the action with 11 assists. Jeremy Lin and P.J. Hairston both finished with a baker's dozen, in entirely different ways-- Lin with his typical strong play off the bench, P.J. Hairston by doing P.J. Hairston things, but hitting a good chunk of his shots this time around. (Speaking of players who have turned their season around, Hairston has been shooting much better lately.)
It's hard to tell whether the Lakers just overachieved for a half (they hit several tough shots despite tight defense), or whether Charlotte was disjointed defensively for a while, but the game was much closer than it should have been for a while, and the Lakers were finding many easy buckets in the paint. That changed in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, and I have to credit Steve Clifford for that. Alright, I have to credit Kobe Bryant for that too. The Hornets did tighten up their interior D in the second half (Zeller and Al Jefferson, to name two, played much better), but Bryant missed a lot of shots. He actually missed more shots than Kemba MADE, and this is a game where Kemba scored 38 points. Bryant shot 1-of-9 in the second half. It's no wonder why Jordan Clarkson eventually stopped passing to him, but Clarkson only shot 2-of-14 from the game, even worse than Bryant.
There, uh, might be some issues with this Lakers team. You know that part in "Do They Know It's Christmas" where the guy sings "Thank God it's them instead of you"? That sums up the Lakers pretty well, I think.
Meanwhile, a few too many Hornets shot poorly from range for my liking, and they can't expect Kemba to score 30-plus points every night, but I wouldn't be too concerned about the defense going forward. Especially as Al Jefferson gets more healthy, they're likely about to get back to the level they were playing at before his injury, and I'm looking forward to that. They might have more games like this over the next week or so, unfortunately, but the team is still heading in the right direction.