Records: Lakers 11-42, Last in the West; Pacers 27-24, 7th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.4, 29th in NBA; Pacers 102.4, 19th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.3, Last in the NBA; Pacers 99.6, 4th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Pacers: George Hill, Monta, Paul George, Myles Turner, Ian Mahinmi
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are playing well. After winning two straight games, they played the Spurs very well and were in the game until the very end. Yes, those Spurs were missing Manu and Timmy, but that same team spanked the Mavs just a couple days before the Lakers played them tight. To stay in that game, on the road, was a marked improvement from what we could expect from previous weeks.
The good play is mostly centered around Kobe who has found ways to get hot in all three of the team’s recent games, keeping the Lakers close by bombing shots from behind the arc and showing just enough craft to get off mid-range jumpers that have been a staple of his arsenal his entire career. The young players have joined Kobe in playing well too, mostly finding their respective strides offensively while leveraging their youth and athleticism to do just enough defensively to not allow games to get out of hand.
All in all, this may be the best stretch of basketball the Lakers have played all year. No, that might not be saying much, but it still needs to be said. I don’t think the Lakers are going to be running off a string of wins anytime soon, but if you are someone looking for progress the last few games are probably exactly what you have been wanting to see.
The Pacers Coming in: It is hard for me to suss out whether the Pacers should be better than their record. At 3 games over .500, they are certainly competitive. And their +2.8 efficiency differential implies a 2nd tier Eastern team who should have around 3 more wins (and 3 fewer losses) than they do. Paul George is having a fantastic year, they added Monta Ellis as another wing scoring option, have a nice rookie in Myles Turner, and are well coached.
The flip side of that is that the team is trying to remake its identity on the fly. They traded Roy Hibbert to the Lakers for nothing this summer and wanted to try and play faster. This has led to feeling out different lineups, getting and maintaining buy-in from all the players — especially George (earlier in the season) — and doing it all while integrating new players who aren’t familiar with head coach Frank Vogel.
This type of stuff leads to ups and downs. They also don’t have a lot of viable depth at big man, which can hurt them on certain nights if (our old pal) Jordan Hill isn’t playing well or Myles Turner is out (which he was earlier during the year with injury). Time will tell if the Pacers’ wins catch up with their differentials, but I probably wouldn’t want to play them in the 1st round of the playoffs.
Pacers Blogs: 8 Points 9 Seconds is one of my favorite team blogs. Give them a read.
Keys to game: Roy Hibbert is out tonight and Robert Sacre will start in his place. I would have liked to have seen Tarik Black get this opportunity, but Scott has removed Ryan Kelly from the rotation and with Larry Nance out due to a sore knee the Lakers’ frontcourt rotation doesn’t have a lot of options anymore. This means Black will play his normal back up role and Bass will see minutes at both PF (next to Black) and C (next to Randle).
What this all means is that the Lakers, should Sacre’s minutes be limited, will likely play at a bit of a faster pace and run a few more P&R’s than normal. Whether this plays into the Pacers’ hands on both ends of the floor remains to be seen, however. Indy has no issues playing with more pace, especially when they insert CJ Miles at PF and have Miles Turner in the game. That trio up front, flanked by Ellis and Hill, can create baskets quickly in the open court and get into paint via dribble penetration when running set actions.
The Lakers will have their hands full either way, but that will especially be the case when in transition. The Lakers can still lack floor balance in transition defense, especially when Kobe/Clarkson/Russell are all in the game. Those three all love to crash the offensive glass and the offense can often take long jumpers when that trio plays together. That combination means the defense will try to run out after securing a rebound, so the Lakers must be better at getting back tonight than they have been all year.
Lastly, the Lakers must defend the arc this game. The Pacers are 11th in 3 point field goal percentage and have several guys who can hurt you from deep. If the Lakers are slow rotating out to the wing or over help in the paint (especially on direct post ups), they will get killed from the outside and on the scoreboard.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.