NEW ORLEANS It's likely that at some point tonight, Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu will be given the task of guarding perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant.
For the third-year player out of Wake Forest, the experience is one he's ready to take on, regardless of how good Bryant is.
In fact, he has grown into the role as the team's go-to defender, learning how to dissect film in order to learn about who he has to defend and how to get the job done.
'I think that has helped me out a lot because you can almost see moves coming in your head nowadays rather than being aggressive on every move,' Aminu said. 'Sometimes you can get caught out of position on a player and that's the difference between 20 points and 28 points.'
It helps for the Hornets that he has done it before.
Coach Monty Williams certainly remembers how he reacted to facing one of the league's best.
'The first time I had to guard Clyde Drexler, he was messing with me before the game,' Williams said. 'He looked at me at the jump ball and said, 'What's your name again?' It just messed me up. I didn't realize he knew exactly who I was and he was playing the game with me.'
Aminu's task is made more difficult tonight because the Lakers are in the midst of a playoff push, one that has Los Angeles 21/2 games out of the last spot with 21 games to play. In the past five games, Bryant is averaging 32.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
And this is where Aminu's maturing as a pro helps. He used to just go out and play defense, not totally understanding the play call and what other players' tendencies were. That has changed.
'I like to take that role on being the defender on this team,' Aminu said. 'It's something I embrace now. Early in my career, I just was so anxious to play defense and I don't think I went about it the smartest way of knowing, watching film and things like that, stuff that I do now in order to be a better defender mentally, not just physically.'
Bryant injured his right elbow in the first quarter of the Lakers' Tuesday night game at Oklahoma City. He still put up 30 points in nearly 40 minutes. Injured or not, Williams knows Bryant is still lethal at 34 years old.
'We haven't been able to stop him,' Bryant said. 'We had one game last year where he struggled, maybe missed 10 or 11 shots in a row. You don't stop guys like that; you try to make it as tough as you can on them.'