Records: Lakers 24-3, Pacers 18-9
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.6 (4th), Pacers 104.9 (25th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.4 (4th-Tied), Pacers 114.3 (28th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Pacers: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable), Kyle Kuzma (out); Pacers: Victor Oladipo (out), JaKarr Sampson (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers win over the Hawks wasn’t their best showing, but it counts all the same. The team’s winning streak is now up to 7 games as they continue to find ways to close out teams, particularly in high leverage moments where it looks as though things could swing in either direction. It really is in those moments where the Lakers perform at their best.
This is actually backed up by the numbers. Per the NBA stats site, the Lakers have best winning percentage in the clutch1Defined as games within 5 points with 5 minutes or fewer remaining, going 12-1 in such games. Further, they have the league’s best Net Rating in the clutch at +24.8, buoyed by a dominant defense that only allows 84.8 points per 100 possessions in those situations. I think we’d all prefer that half the Lakers games to this point in the year weren’t so close down the stretch, but I think we should all be encouraged that they’ve found ways to play so well in these moments — I think it speaks well to their long term prospects.
On the injury front, Anthony Davis is nursing the tweak to his ankle he suffered down the stretch of the Hawks game. He’s listed as questionable and I truly think it’s 50/50 he plays in this game. An extra day of rest would surely do him well, but the culture of this team has been to play as many games as possible, so we’ll see. Kyle Kuzma remains out with his own ankle issues, so if AD doesn’t play, the Lakers front court is suddenly very thin.
The Pacers coming in: Indy has won 3 in a row and 4 of their last 5. That stretch doesn’t include a lot of powerhouses, but they did beat the Celtics in this stretch (and, like I said above, all wins count the same in the standings). They’re currently 6th in the East, a wonderful showing for them considering they’ve been without all-star guard Victor Oladipo all season as he recovers from the quadriceps injury he suffered last season.
Indy’s squad is reworked some from last season, acquiring both T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon via trade from the Suns and Bucks respectively this off-season. Both have slid right into the starting lineup this year, adding some toughness and scoring punch to the roster in Oladipo’s absence. Also starting is free agent signing Jeremy Lamb, who after dealing with injury issues earlier this season himself, has come back to the lineup as a nice scoring wing option that gives this roster more balance as they wait for Vic to return.
Overall, the Pacers are a level below the true contenders in the East, but their showing through the first quarter of the season has been beyond respectable. If Oladipo returns showing his prior form, this team could make some noise in the playoffs. Credit the players, here, but also credit head coach Nate McMillan for getting his guys to play hard and to defend with purpose. They’re just a gritty, hard-nosed team that gets after you.
Keys to the game: First things first, in the most recent podcast I did with our friend Pete Zayas, we were talking some pre-recording about previewing the Bucks game. I said “this sounds great, let’s do it.” After going over the show a bit more, I asked “should we talk about the Pacers too?” and he told me “Yes, we should — the fact that I wanted to skip right over that game to talk about the Bucks first is the reason why the Lakers might be in trouble vs. Indy.”
That, my friends, is the definition of a trap game. Mind you, the Pacers are legitimately good! They deserve to be treated with respect and, in an ideal world, the Lakers would not be looking ahead to Thursday’s matchup with the Bucks and instead be focused on Indy. My sincere question, however, is whether we actually live in that ideal world. My honest answer: I’m not sure.
I hope the Lakers got the whole “hey, a trap game, but let’s be trapped anyway!” thing out of the way vs. the Hawks. That game saw nearly all the role players perform poorly, the team miss an ungodly amount of 3’s, and commit a ton of turnovers. LeBron and AD carried them to a win down the stretch, though, so all was saved. With that out of the way, one would hope they’d have the requisite focus they’ll need for tonight’s game.
One would hope.
In drilling down for what matters for this game, I’d say two things:
- Prepare for a physical game. Indy starts two traditional bigs and defend at a high level. They’ll pressure the ball at the point of attack and will grind away in the areas of the court, on both sides of the ball, most teams try to avoid. The Lakers need to be aware that this team will shoot from the mid-range and attack their bigs defensively.
- The Pacers take care of the ball and are an above average assists team. The Lakers are a team that thrives on forcing turnovers, both via blocked shots and steals. How effective the Lakers are at turning them over in order to create transition chances could be a key difference in this game.
From an individual matchup perspective, whether Davis plays will be huge. Not just because he’s one of the best players in the league, but because the Pacers rely on their size to create advantages in the paint and not having AD to score inside and defend the likes of Turner and Sabonis will be major factor in determining who wins. AD, even if not at full health, can erase the effectiveness of his individual matchup and then can score well enough to create major advantages.
For LeBron, Warren will struggle to defend him individually and I’ll be interested to see how much Indy helps and/or sends outright double teams to try to cut down LeBron’s scoring chances. If facing single coverage, and even with help waiting at the rim, LeBron can feast via mid-range post ups and with off-the-dribble work. With help, LeBron will simply pass more and the shooters will have to make shots. Which brings me to…
This is a game I would love to see Danny Green get going. He’s been ice cold all month, shooting only 26.7% from behind the arc on nearly 6 attempts a game. A 4-7 night from distance would be absolutely massive for the Lakers to give them some needed scoring punch with Kuzma out.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.
*All stats via stats.nba.com