Records: Lakers 34-32 (8th in the West), Pacers 40-24 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.7 (8th in the NBA), Pacers 101.4 (20th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.6 (18th in the NBA), Pacers 95.7 (1st in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Pacers: George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (game time decision), Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the year); Pacers: Danny Granger (out)
Pacers Blogs: 8 Points, 9 Seconds is a great Pacers’ site that you should check out.
UPDATE: Forget pretty much most of what follows below since:
Kobe Bryant is officially in the starting line up.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 15, 2013
Serves me right, I guess, for writing a preview doubting he’d play when Kobe had nearly two full days to recover from an ailment.
Keys to game: With Kobe likely out (he’s a game time decision, but that seems more like a courtesy and tribute to Kobe’s resiliency than anything else) and Gasol, while close to returning, likely out until Sunday or Monday, the Lakers head into Indiana down two of their best offensive players while facing the league’s best defense. In other words, things could be ugly tonight.
The Pacers are a team that reminds me of the 90’s Knicks or the Bad Boy Pistons. They ramp up the physicality to a level that most teams aren’t accustomed to playing and then watch as teams struggle to adjust to that style, with frustration and stagnant offense typically resulting. So, in facing this rugged defense and without Kobe Bryant, what exactly will a Laker offense look like? And how can it find ways to put up enough points to win this game. Well, the latter will be difficult regardless, so lets focus on the former.
Expect the Lakers to try and push the tempo in this game, playing more at a speed that makes Nash comfortable with heavy doses of drag P&R’s in early offense and more standard P&R’s throughout regular possessions. Ever since Kobe became more of a distributor, Nash has been more of a spot up shooter than pick and roll practitioner, but that should change tonight. Also expect more shots early the possession with Meeks replacing Kobe as he’ll likely be the player who sees a big increase in his touches with Kobe out.
Tactically, we may also see Ron shift from the weak to to the strong side of the offense with Meeks the player who is camped in that weak side corner. Most defenses help off the weak side when defending the dive man in the P&R and if Clark (or Jamison) is the the release valve, Meeks could greatly benefit from the ball swinging his way against a defense caught in mid rotation. We could also see Nash be more aggressive early in looking for his own shot in the P&R as Hibbert is prone to sit well below the screen and invite mid-range jumpers rather than come out high and expose his lack of foot speed on the perimeter.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a greater emphasis put on getting Dwight the ball in non-P&R situations. Hibbert is a very good defender but can be taken advantage of with quick moves and power finishes around the rim. If Dwight can work his turn and face game to get a step on Hibbert going to the lane, he can get good shots at the rim that Hibbert may still be able to bother but can also earn fouls trying to block. An assertive and active Dwight can do wonders in this game if can score efficiently and hit some FT’s in the process.
Where we’re likely to see the biggest adjustment in how the offense is run is with the bench unit, however. Kobe has been a fixture next to Steve Blake in reserve lineups which will mean more of a burden on Blake to initiate the offense via the P&R and to be more of an all court player than he is when paired with #24 in the backcourt. Blake, like Nash, will have to be a bit more assertive to keep the defense guessing and look for his pull up jumper if it’s made available often. If he can knock a few down, he can then become more of a distributor, but without Kobe as an outlet defenses will be fewer passing angles as the defense adjusts and plays things more straight up. Of course, if Ron, Jamison, and Clark can also make shots it will give the Lakers enough of an identity to keep the game interesting.
Defensively, the Lakers will also have to adjust to missing Kobe as it removes one of their better on ball defenders and an option to put on guys like Paul George and George Hill. This will put an even greater emphasis on Dwight’s ability to help his perimeter mates by clogging the lane while still recovering to the paint to rebound with Hibbert. Hill and George are both very good scorers when they get going into the paint and if Dwight can stand up to their drives without fouling (while also getting help from his mates on the glass when he does have to commit), the Pacers’ offense can be limited.
The other key player for Indy is David West and I, for one, can’t wait to see the match up between him and Ron from the elbow down. West plays a no-nonsense grown man game and Ron will have his hands full when battling him for position and in trying to control his post game. West also has a very nice touch with his mid-range jumper and needs to be guarded closely enough that his jumper can be contested. Ron, though, has no quit in him and will fight with West for every inch of real estate and try to force him to take contested shots every time down the floor. Do yourself a favor and watch this match up even West doesn’t have the ball just to see two very strong guys go at it.
In the end, getting this win was always going to be a bit tough even with Kobe playing. With him likely out (or greatly diminished if he does play), the odds drop even further. That said, any game can be won with the right amount of discipline, some shot making, and a bit of luck. The Lakers will need a bit more than a “bit” of the latter, but the other two things are in their control (for the most part). The Pacers are sure to ratchet up the physicality and will play a level of defense this Laker team rarely sees, but there are counters to every style and if Nash and Dwight are on their respective games we could be in for a well contested game that goes down to the wire. At this point, that’s really all we can hope for.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.