Regardless of what changes the Lakers make, the losses continue. Friday was another example of this as the team battled the Grizzlies for 48 minutes and nearly pushed the game to overtime, only to fall short due to some late game clock management issues and a last second shot that did not fall. The team is now 1-2 since Kobe returned from missing three games which is pretty much the level of results the team achieved before he took the time off.
This is not to say the team does not look better, however. Since Kobe’s returned he’s taken a more balanced approach to his game, moving the ball much more freely after taking a more lead guard role as the primary offensive initiator. Taking this tack has created a more inclusive offense that has allowed the rest of the team to find a better rhythm when playing with Kobe and lessened the burden Kobe had been shouldering earlier in the year. After the game, Kobe spoke about this shift and elaborated on what necessitated it. Via the Kamenetzky brothers’ Facebook page:
“I don’t know if my body can take it. I don’t know if it can. I think in this situation, where teams just just double me all over the floor, it’s not like I’m passing up shots, I don’t have them. Because you stack up, you trap. Back in my younger days, I could go through that stuff and still have 30 or 40 points. Now, my body can’t take it. So I dominate the game in a different way.”
Kobe acknowledging that he may no longer be physically capable of simply overwhelming defenses is a level of self-awareness he’s typically not credited with. It will be interesting to see how he continues to adjust, however, when defenses start to play him more for the pass by playing him in single coverage and not converging on him with multiple defenders the way that defenses have been over the past 3 games.
Which is exactly what could happen in this game. The Pacers play a disciplined brand of defense where Roy Hibbert hangs back in the paint in order to try and keep the offense in the mid-range area. David West is another big body who would prefer to not defend too far from the painted area while muscling players as they get closer to the rim. This style should present an interesting challenge to Kobe and the rest of the Lakers as they likely shouldn’t see too many traps while also leaving open the type of mid-range shots the team has taken far too many of this season. If the Lakers fall into the trap of settling for too many of these 18 foot jumpers they may find themselves struggling to put up points in an ugly slugfest of a game.
Defensively, the Lakers will be facing a team down some firepower.
Injury update: C.J. Watson (sore left foot) and George Hill (left groin strain) are both out for tonight’s game against the Lakers.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 4, 2015
With Hill and Watson both out, the Pacers’ offense will become even more reliant on their big men to generate points and to draw enough defensive attention to open up shots for others. Look for the Pacers to play even more inside out offensively than normal with West and Hibbert looking to get deep post position where they can either score or kick the ball out to open shooters should the Lakers need to help. The onus, then, will be on Jordan Hill and Ed Davis to do their work early defensively, battling their counterparts for position and keeping both Hibbert and West from getting two feet in the paint before making a catch. This will require them fighting through cross-screens and not letting up physically when working off the ball.
This game represents one of the rare occasions when the Lakers enter the game favored. The Pacers are short handed, on the road, and are coming off a road game in Milwaukee on Friday. That said, Indy has won two straight games and are one of the better coached teams in the league and always seem to play the Lakers’ tough regardless of personnel or circumstance. If the Lakers think this game will be a win simply by showing up, they will lose. We’ll see early on how they approach this game.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.