Preview and Chat: The Indiana Pacers

Darius Soriano —  January 22, 2012

Records: Lakers 10-7 (6th in West), Pacers 10-4 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 101.4 (18th in NBA), Pacers 101.3 (19th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.1 (6th in NBA), Pacers 97.4 (4th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pacers: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Pacers: Jeff Foster (out), Jeff Pendergraph (out)

The Lakers Coming in: Losers of two straight – in blowout fashion to pour salt in the wounds – the Lakers look disorganized and a bit beat down. This team clearly hasn’t discovered what they’ll be on offense from night to night and that lack of identity has seemingly carried over to the defensive side of the ball where their principles aren’t being executed and their rebounding has not been up to par.

Their legs also look worn down. A lot of that can be attributed to the suspect depth on the roster but plenty of blame must also go to Mike Brown’s insistence on playing his main players heavy minutes in games that aren’t truly in reach or competitive. We saw it at the end of the Miami game and again versus Orlando. In neither game did the Lakers ever truly threaten in the final 6 minutes but in both games the starters saw the final buzzer from the court rather than the bench. Even when considering the lack of a viable backup shooting guard on the roster, there was no reason for Kobe to play 95 minutes in games the Lakers lost by double figures, especially when earlier this week Mike Brown spoke of needing to cut Kobe’s minutes in the wake of him now playing 38 of them a night. How that heavy load, not just for Kobe but for Pau (and, to a lesser extent, Bynum) carries over into tonight remains to be seen.

The Pacers Coming in: In J.M.’s conversation with Jared Wade, we learned a fair amount about this team. I suggest you give that a read to get an insider’s perspective into this team.

As for my thoughts, the Pacers offer an intriguing mix of young players coming into their own and veteran players that have been around the block a few times and know what it takes to win in this league. Collison, George, Hill, Hibbert, and Hansbrough give this team a nice core of up and coming players that can be the future of this franchise. When you combine them with Granger (who’s been a bit up and down but seems to be settling in) and David West (who was a great pick up), you have a couple of veterans that can be a strong presence in the locker room to help guide this team. With Frank Vogel getting this team to play hard on defense while utilizing a solid bench that can hold its own against most 2nd units around the league, this team is dangerous on any given night and a threat to make the 2nd round of the playoffs should the match ups break their way.

Moving away from the personnel for a moment, one storyline that interests me is the return of Brian Shaw who caught on as an assistant coach with the Pacers this summer. Shaw was a player favorite and, at least for me, the ideal candidate to take over as head coach when Phil Jackson retired. I won’t cry over spilled milk that the team went in another direction but with the Lakers floundering on offense, Shaw’s return on the opposite bench is somewhat of a bitter-bitter moment for many fans (and potentially some players too).

Pacers Blogs: The analysis at 8 Points 9 Seconds is top shelf and you should check them out for all your Pacers’ news.

Keys to game: The Lakers face what is essentially a carbon copy of themselves when looking at their statistical profiles. Both teams pair a tough defense with a middling offense with each team’s front court being a key strength to the roster. The difference, however, is that the Lakers primary wing player – Kobe Bryant – is having another very strong year while Danny Granger hasn’t yet produced at the level he, and his team, is accustomed to.

And that difference may prove to be the key to this game. Kobe played a brilliant game against the Magic by scoring efficiently and at a high clip while also playing the distributor role nearly perfectly by reading the double teams being sent at him and picking out his mates with precise passes. Tonight, though, he may need to step up his scoring even more in order to give a booster shot to a Laker offense that is struggling to put points on the board. Getting Kobe into the mid post, the elbow, and running him off screens to free him coming into the paint can help get him going on offense and I hope to see more of that early to set the tone on O. He’ll have the long and aggressive Paul George checking him but Kobe can use some of that aggression against the 2nd year wing to shake loose, draw some fouls, and open up the rest of his offense.

But Kobe can’t go it alone. He’ll need his bigs to step up and this is a game where both Pau and Bynum can get it going on offense by being decisive with the ball and attacking quickly. Bynum’s facing a long and tall Hibbert but that size doesn’t come with much girth. If Bynum can get into the post early and work for deep position, Hibbert won’t be able to do much but foul or give up short hooks. That said, Bynum must do a better job of converting when he gets the ball deep – something he’s struggled with the last few games. Maybe the quick doubles he’s seeing from guards digging down is affecting his concentration on these shots but he must do better about getting his shot off quickly without rushing his shooting motion. As for Gasol, David West is not much of a defender and Pau must attack him both off the dribble and by racing up court and trying to get to the post as well. Gasol is an able jump shooter, but his strength is still working his face up game 12 feet and in or working the post from the left block where can go to the middle with his turnaround jumper and running hook or drop step to the baseline side and shoot his lefty hook. Both are good options against a player he has a height and length advantage over and I’m hopeful that even with a more aggressive Kobe, Pau looks for his own shot when he gets his touches.

As for the Lakers defense, the Pacers don’t do a lot of things well on offense but this doesn’t mean they don’t have any threats to be accounted for. Collison, though not shooting a high percentage himself, is still a threat to turn the corner in the P&R and get into the lane to do damage. Collison must also be run off the 3 point line as often as possible and forced to either shoot the long two or move the ball on to a teammate. Further more, when he works the P&R with West, the Lakers must be ready for West to pop to the elbow area and look for his mid-range jumper. The other threats are Granger on the wing and Hibbert in the post. Both players require a lot of attention but the Lakers mustn’t over commit to either players by sending double teams or over reacting by over helping. Granger has been playing well lately but the combination of Barnes and MWP should be enough to limit him as long as they play smart and make him take contested jumpers off the dribble. Hibbert, meanwhile, shows good polish in the post and can hit hooks from the block and stretch his face up jumper out to 16 feet if given the space. Of course he’s best working 10 feet and in, but the point is that he is a threat with the ball in his hands both as a scorer and a passer so both Bynum and Pau will need to be ready when they match up with him.

The other key will be bench play. The Lakers’ reserves have been playing poorly of late while the Pacers offer a group that includes George Hill (who’s a familiar face from his Spurs days) and Tyler Hansbrough. Both players work hard and will hustle for loose balls, attack the rim, and give their bench a boost. The Lakers will need to match these guys’ energy while also hitting some of the shots that they’ve not been knocking down (especially recently). Hopefully being at home (where role players typically play better) and – at least for McRoberts and Murphy – playing against their former team can inspire some solid play. The Lakers will certainly need it tonight.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start time on Fox Sports. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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