Records: Lakers 18-7 (3rd in West), Pacers 11-12 (7th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.3 (1st in NBA), Pacers 104.0 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (11th in NBA), Pacers 102.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pacers: Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Pacers: none
The Lakers Coming in: Apparently, yesterday was a bad day for me to get sick since there was a lot of news with the Lakers. So while I sip on another Thera-flu, let’s get right to it in discussing all the ins and outs of a busy Tuesday for the Lakers.
First, Andrew Bynum returned last night and I thought he looked as good as could be expected considering his long lay off. There were a couple of plays where his footwork was awkward and he was unable to convert the two lobs that were tossed his way, but those were the only down moments on a pretty successful evening. In his 17 minutes of game action, ‘Drew did a good job of changing ends and he used his (massive) size effectively to create post up chances on offense and block/alter shots on defense. In the end though, his biggest impact came in how he provided rest and an interior alternative for Pau and Odom. Throughout the game Gasol especially looked fresher and more comfortable on the floor as he no longer had to preserve energy while also taking all the banging down low – two things that don’t really go well together.
The other big news was obviously the trade of Sasha and LA’s 2011 first round pick as part of a three team deal that netted them Joe Smith, two second round picks, and Ukrainian big mag Sergei Lishouk. This trade has a lot of positives and I’m quite pleased with the haul the Lakers received and the financial benefits that result from the deal. Looking at the money first, the Lakers save nearly $9 million this year in salary and luxury tax payments in the swap of The Machine for Smith. They also gain a trade exception of almost $5.5 million according to cap guru and CBA expert Larry Coon. All of this money will bolster the Lakers chances of being able to spend more next off-season or use the trade exception to take on salary without giving up any players should a player come available that the Lakers really want to bring on board.
As for the haul of Smith, picks, and Lishouk are concerned, I’m very happy that the Lakers have been able to supplement their big man depth (a real need), grab additional second round picks that can be added to the roster or stashed in Europe with little financial commitment, while also grabbing the rights to a seasoned European big man that currently plays in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Obviously the picks and Loushik are potential pieces for future seasons and can’t be looked at as anything more than assets, but Smith is a guy that can help this year as another serviceable big that can hit the top of the key and baseline jumpshot while also providing decent low post defense. Plus with Ratliff still out of commission from his knee surgery, Smith provides a contingency plan in case Theo’s recovery takes longer than expected. Overall, this is a win for the Lakers as they’ve accomplished what many would have thought impossible: they’ve traded Sasha, saved money in the process, and picked up assets that can help down the line without taking on any additional salary. Really, Mitch Kupchak has done it again.
One last note on Sasha, I’m happy that he’s going to get a fresh start and wish him nothing but the best in New Jersey. While his tenure with this team had its severe ups and downs and could mostly be characterized by frenetic play that upset Lakers fans as much as the opposition, Sasha provided some good moments that I’ll remember for a long time. His two FT’s to clinch last year’s title are the obvious, but his inspired play in 2008 also helped the Lakers reach the Finals and really contributed to the turnaround of this organization from first round fodder to contender. His role in all of that was indeed limited and behind the bigger roles of Kobe/Pau/Bynum/etc, but he’s a guy that always worked hard and gave it his all on the court. And for that, at least, I’ll remember him fondly. Plus I’ll miss his videos.
The Pacers Coming in: Since the 5 game stretch at the end of November when the Pacers took down both the Heat and the Lakers, the team from the Hoosier state hasn’t been able to find a real rhythm. They’ve lost 5 of their 7 games this month and haven’t beaten a quality team since they visited Staples Center and took out the Lakers (their two wins this month have come against the Bobcats and the Raptors). So right at the time that many thought the Pacers were breaking through and starting to show that they can be a pretty good team in the East, they’ve stagnated. It’s like they’ve come back to earth before ever really taking off.
Plus, their coach seems to be making some strange decisions and showing tougher love than what may really be needed with his up and coming team. Recently, Jim O’Brien sat Darren Collison down the stretch of a close game in favor of AJ Price. When Collison was asked about being parked on the pine, he offered that he “didn’t know why (he) didn’t play”. Then you have the comments he made about Roy Hibbert to the media where he basically said that his much improved Center “isn’t really having a good season”. I’ve always liked O’Brien as a coach as he typically gets the most out of his players. He runs creative schemes on both sides of the ball and his results are usually better than expected considering the talent on his roster. But, in this case, I’m really not sure what he’s up to or what he hopes to accomplish by taking the stance that he has with two of his best young players. We’ll have to see if this leads to better play, because even though they currently sit in 7th in the East this group does need to turn it back around.
Pacers Blogs: Jared Wade continues to do a bang up job covering the Pacers over at 8 Points, 9 Seconds.
Keys to game: When these two teams met last month, the Pacers controlled the paint on both sides of the ball and pulled out the win mostly with their ability to defend well and control the tempo of the game. Tonight, if the Lakers are to get the season split, they’ll need to turn the tables on the Pacers by taking that same formula and making it their own.
Offensively this means attacking the interior through quick post ups and by utilizing the actions of the Triangle to get good shots going towards the hoop. Last night against Washington, the Lakers did a very good job of being patient on offense and waiting for cutters to break open and then delivering the ball on time to get shots at the rim. Those same techniques can be utilized tonight against the Pacers if the Lakers commit to running their sets and executing them cleanly. That means setting good screens off the ball and cutting hard when Kobe, Pau, and Bynum are in the post.
The other key on offense will be to make the extra pass against a good defensive team. The Pacers do a great job of playing a disciplined defense where they rarely gamble and funnel players to the paint so that their bigs can contest shots. To beat this type of defense, the Lakers will need to penetrate the gaps but then look to make the pass to the open man when the help comes. In the last game the Lakers got too caught up playing in isolation and it led to bad shot attempts and a lot of Kobe ball. Kobe did his best to keep the Lakers in it by having a 41 point outburst, but in order to get the win tonight, more balance will be needed and that means moving the ball on to the open man when possible.
Defensively, the Lakers need to defend the paint. In the first match up, the Pacers made 22 of their 33 FG’s within 10 feet where Hibbert and the Pacers’ wings were way too comfortable posting up and attacking off the dribble. The Lakers need to do a much better job of fighting Hibbert for position while simultaneously closing down driving lanes better. Having Bynum back will aid in this, but I’m also looking for Artest and Kobe to do a better job on their men by not gambling as much for steals and by playing better position D when the Pacers run their myriad of screens and cuts to free up their perimeter scorers.
On the second night of a back to back, this will be a good test for the Lakers to see if Bynum can be productive and if the rest that the Lakers got last night will carry over into tonight. Motivation should be easy to come by considering the results of their last meeting, but it will take more than just wanting it tonight. The Lakers are going to have to exceed the execution of the Pacers and play hard throughout in order to get the separation that they’ll need to pull this game out down the stretch. Hopefully, we’ll see that commitment to playing a full 48 that we saw last night against the Pacers this evening.
Where you can watch: 4pm start time out west on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.