On Tap: The Indiana Pacers

 —  March 18, 2005

Have the Lakers’ luck run out?

John Hollinger talks about it on his ESPN Insider column today (his columns are still the best thing about the Insider), so far this season the Lakers are the second luckiest team in the NBA. Their Pythagorean record (based on scoring and defense) so far is 28-35, four games back of their actual 32-32 record. (The Nets are the luckiest, they are seven games above where they should be.) The Lakers are winning the close games, Hollinger notes, pointing to the Lakers 13-8 record in games decided by five or fewer points, while in games decided by 10 or more they are 8-17.

Has Kobe’s battery run out?

In the second half of the last three games, Kobe Bryant is 3 of 29 shooting, a sign that he is wearing down. He is playing an average of 42 minutes per game, second highest average in the league. He told the LA Times that his ankle is bothering him again. It’s starting to show.

Has the long season caught up with the Lakers and are they about to be out?

We’re going to learn that in the next week. Tonight they have a key game, a winnable game in Indiana, but they need to play better than the last three games. Next Friday, they play Denver in Denver. By the end of that game, we’ll know whether the luck has run out on these Lakers.

As bad as the Lakers luck has been, it’s been worse for the Pacers. They coulda had class. They coulda been a contender. They coulda been somebody. Instead, they are struggling to stay in the playoff hunt in the east. They lost Ron Artest to suspension and now Jermaine O’Neal to injury. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley is considered day-to-day heading into tonight.

Without those key players for long stretches the Pacers have been pretty average, 12th in the league in defensive efficiency and 20th in offensive efficiency.

When these two teams faced off 12 days ago it was one of the Lakers easiest wins of the season — they played great defense in the first quarter, holding the Pacers to 37.5% (eFG%) as they built a lead they never gave up. All five starters scored in double digits. The Lakers packed it in early and while the Pacers got closer, they never really threatened.

The last game of the road trip is always the toughest to win, but if the Lakers lose they fall below .500 and will fall 2.5 games back of Denver (unless the Clippers help out with a win). I really don’t like the phrase “must win” for the NBA regular season — the NCAA tournament is must win — but tonight’s Laker game is about as close to it as you can get.