After an opening night win over the Rockets, the Lakers have dropped two straight road games against the Jazz and the Thunder. Both the losses showed off the Lakers’ fighting spirit which, if you listen to the players, is meaningful and can be built on. Maybe fans, too, should get into savoring some moral victories since, despite Metta World Peace’s playoff proclamations, the Lakers are not likely to post more than 30 or so actual victories.
But that’s a topic for another day. Today, the team will be back on the court and regardless of what the oddsmakers think, the team will be trying to get that W. The team they will try to get it against is a renewed Pacers’ team which has retooled their roster and hired Nate McMillan to replace the dispatched Frank Vogel.
That coaching change was based on the premise that team president Larry Bird wanted the team to play faster and be more explosive on offense. Through three games, I would say the Pacers are trending in that direction. They are playing at the 11th fastest pace and have the 15th best offensive efficiency per the NBA.com/stats. Problem is, the Pacers are also ranked 29th in defensive efficiency and have only won one of their three games.
In other words, they are a work in progress.
They do have some talent, though. Paul George remains one of the better 2-way players in the league. He’s flanked on the wing by Monta Ellis and the acquired by trade Jeff Teague. Up front they have the emerging 2nd year player Myles Turner and the acquired by trade Thad Young. This, then, projects to be a talented starting 5 who should be able to score. But with only George and Turner projecting to be plus defenders (George is already fantastic, Turner is young and learning), you can see why the aforementioned rankings are what they are.
For the Lakers, then, this has the potential to be a winnable game. Indy has the best player and more experience overall, but the Lakers look to be the deeper team and, even if their offense has not shown it yet (outside of the Rockets game), just as explosive offensively. The question will be whether their team defense is up to the task of guarding the perimeter and whether they can finally start to turn some of these open jumpshots into made baskets.
This means, interestingly enough, that Luol Deng becomes someone to look at closely tonight. Deng has not played well to start the season — which is a bit of a concern. He did well against the Jazz playing against the older Joe Johnson, but against the Thunder and Rockets, he looked his age. Tonight he will have the task of defending Paul George and will likely get open shots as the Indy defense turns its focus towards slowing Russell, Clarkson, Young, Lou, and Randle.
Can Deng get stops against George? Can he hit open jumpers? If the answer to those questions is no, it may be time to turn to Brandon Ingram for longer stretches or get Clarkson more burn and slide Nick Young up to SF. Neither of those are ideal solutions, but both offer more potential scoring punch than Deng which may be important against a team which has been trying to outscore opponents in this early part of the year.
The other match up I am interested in is Randle vs. Thad Young. Both are rangy lefties who can score inside, handle the ball, and defend on the wing if needed. Randle has been able to do well against all types of opponents to start the year, but Thad offers a unique defender who has quickness and length to defend in space but enough strength to battle inside.
Lastly, I am hoping to see D’Angelo Russell get going a bit this game. Unless the Pacers put George on him, Russell will see a smaller defender who who can shoot over the top of. And if he is actually matched up with Teague, can also take into the post. Russell hasn’t gone to the post much this season, but in facing off against Eric Gordon, George Hill, and Russell Westbrook that should not be a surprise since there is not an advantage there. Against Teague or (to a lesser extent) Monta, the calculus changes and I’d like to see him go down there to create offense for himself and others.
Where you can watch: 4pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.