After winning their 3rd straight game last night in Minnesota — also this thing with Kobe happened, in case you missed it — the Lakers are back in action tonight against Indiana. Playing back to back under normal circumstances is already a difficult task in the NBA, but add in emotional element of last night’s game and tonight will be even more difficult.
The Pacers aren’t a particularly good team, having been dealt a serious blow by the injury to Paul George over the summer and the walking of Lance Stephenson via free agency left their wing rotation sorely lacking. Add to that an injury to George Hill, another to Ian Mahinmi, and the normal bumps and bruises and adjustments that come from having a roster turned over this much and there are bound to be issues.
In some ways, then, a 7-17 record for this group is not that bad. It is nowhere near the team who many thought could compete for a championship last season, but it’s also not as bad as teams like the 76ers or Timberwolves. Their record, more than anything, is reflective of talent available and circumstances thrust upon them by injury and attrition more than any deficiency in coaching or team culture.
Bringing us back to tonight, the Lakers will be in for a grinding battle from a well coached team that can still play strong defense — especially on the back line. In order to win this game, the Lakers will need to find ways to be efficient offensively against a team who wants to surrender the exact type of shots the Lakers have taken in bunches this year. Look for Indy to sag in the P&R and invite mid-range jumpers while also aggressively fighting through screens to run the Lakers wings off their preferred spots and into the teeth of the defense where Hibbert and David West will look to put a bruising on them.
In saying all that, I will be interested in seeing how the Lakers’ bigs match up with the Pacers while also closely monitoring if the Lakers’ wings can escape pressure outside to still create good perimeter looks. If Kobe, Young, Lin, and Ellington can shake free for some clean looks on the perimeter and hit some three point shots in the process, the Pacers’ defense will be spread out and there is a better chance for Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, and Carlos Boozer to do some damage 16 feet and in. But if the clamps get put on the those perimeter threats, the lane will only get more congested and the points will be hard to come by.
In terms of the Lakers’ defense, they really need to find a way to protect the paint and keep the Pacers a perimeter oriented team. While guys like West and Luis Scola can be threats out to 18-20 feet, they can do more damage working 10 feet and in. Keeping them off their spots and rotating to them quickly when they do spot up out of the P&R can keep the Pacers’ offense off balance and make Rodney Stuckey and CJ Watson take on a bigger load.
Tonight offers another winnable game, albeit under circumstances that will create challenges that go beyond dealing with the Pacers. We’ll see if the Lakers are up to it.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.