Records: Lakers 7-7 (8th in the West), Pacers 6-8 (10th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (4th in the NBA), Pacers 96.0 (28th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.5 (T 10th in the NBA), Pacers 97.4 (2nd in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Pacers: George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash & Steve Blake (both out); Pacers: Danny Granger & Jeff Pendergraph (both out)
The Lakers Coming in: After two bad defeats to the Kings and the Grizzlies, the Lakers came back to dominate the Mavericks. It’s this type of up and down play that has become the symbol of the early season Lakers. Some nights they look fantastic on both sides of the ball. Their offense flows, the defense is dialed in, and the results are what you’d expect from a team with this much talent (even without Nash). Other nights, nothing seems to work and the team looks like it’s still searching for how it wants to play under it’s third coach in four weeks to start the season.
If there’s one key factor for the Lakers success, though, it’s their energy level. Dwight Howard spoke at length about this yesterday after practice when describing his own game by saying, “for this team to be successful it doesn’t matter how many points I score or how many rebounds I get, as along as my energy is there on the defensive end and I’m active.” Dwight can be the leader in this regard as he’s the young thoroughbred on this roster. When he’s energized, the rest of the team also seems to pick up their energy level and good things tend to happen.
The Pacers Coming in: While the underperforming Lakers have been grabbing all the headlines, the Pacers are not playing up to their preseason expectations either. Last season they finished with the 3rd best record in the conference and pushed a (Bosh-less) Heat team as hard as any team did all playoffs. This year, however, they’re two games under .500 through 14 games and post one of the worst offenses in the league.
Their decline has really been due to three factors. First is that Danny Granger has yet to play a game this season due to chronic knee pain. And while Granger isn’t the top flight offensive player he was three years ago, he’s still a key part to Indiana’s attack on both sides of the ball. The second is that the Pacers did tweak their roster in the off-season. Darren Collison was traded away to the Mavs for backup big man Ian Mahinmi. The team has missed Collison’s creativity on offense and his ability to change the tempo of the game. Lastly, Roy Hibbert has played pretty poorly. An all-star last season, Hibbert is only shooting 39% this year while scoring only 9.6 points and grabbing 8.7 rebounds a night.
All of these factors make the Pacers a radically different team than they were last year — especially on offense. And while they look to be changing up their attack on that side of the ball, we’ll see if that is a sustained effort and if they can overcome injuries and start to get more from some of their key players.
Pacers Blogs: 8 Points, 9 Seconds is one of the best team specific sites out there. Give them a read.
Keys to game: I hate to sound dismissive to a Pacer team that defends well and has always played the Lakers well (especially in Staples). but so much of this game depends on what the Lakers bring to the table in terms of energy and focus. As noted, the Pacers have been a bad offensive team most of the year and will try to muddy up the game with physical play and a slowed pace to take the Lakers out of their comfort zone.
The Lakers mustn’t succumb to what the Pacers want to do, instead finding their game and imposing it on the visiting team. At home, this team must find an appropriate energy level, defend with purpose, attack the glass hard, and then take the ball the other way and make the Pacers defend in space. Much like Andrew Bynum exhibited for the Lakers in season’s past, Roy Hibbert lacks the quickness to change ends with Dwight Howard and the Lakers must take advantage. David West is better in that area but no one would mistake him for Josh Smith changing ends.
Once the game settles into a half court contest, the Lakers must use the P&R to further exploit Hibbert. He loves to hang back below the screen and use his size and length to disrupt mid-range jumpers. If you try to attack him at the rim, he can still be disruptive because of his massive frame so ball handlers must be smart about how they go at him. Make him slide his feet and engage the ball handler, take/make smart shots/passes, and make the defense cover a lot of ground behind him. If the team moves the ball decisively to the open man, the Lakers should generate makable shots.
Defensively, the Lakers must worry about David West from mid-range all the way to the low post. He’s been the Pacers’ leading scorer this year playing the same consistent game he’s had since entering the league while bullying smaller opponents to get to his preferred spots on the floor. One set to look for are P&R actions between West and Hill where the PF pops to open space for his jumper, so the defense must be aware and make quick rotations to take away that open shot. Make West a passer (something he’s willing to do, btw) to make another Pacer beat you.
While he’s been struggling this season, it’s also important to make Roy Hibbert in the post. In past seasons (and selectively this year) he’s shown deep range (out to 12 feet) on his jump hook and is a threat from either block in the post. When he’s got his offensive game going he fights for deep position and then uses his superior height to get off any type of shot he wants. He’s also a skilled passer from the block so perimeter players must be aware of their own man and not lose connection while ball watching.
It would be nice if the Lakers could start to string some wins together. Last week it looked as if this team was starting to find their stride but quickly fell back below .500 with some troubling losses. The Mavs game, combined with some needed rest, should provide them with some momentum and the energy needed to play well. Here’s hoping it happens.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on TWC Sports Net. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.