The Los Angeles Lakers attempted to rebound from their Tuesday loss to the Denver Nuggets, in a primetime showdown on ESPN against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers. Lakers head coach Luke Walton received some positive news on Friday, as forward Larry Nance Jr. was cleared to return to practice and game action this weekend.
Friday’s matchup between the Pacers and Lakers featured two teams heading in opposite directions, as the Lakers entered on a five-game losing streak, while the Pacers had won seven of their last 10 games.
With Luol Deng ruled out for a second consecutive game, Walton sent out D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov. Nate McMillan countered with George, Jeff Teague, Glenn Robinson III, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.
The 15-31 Lakers had a negative start to their 47th game of the season, as an injury scare had Staples Center silent. On one of their first few possessions, Russell and Randle collided on a pick and roll, with Russell falling to the ground and hitting his knee on the court.
Russell was on the floor for quite some time, but hobbled to the bench on his own. He was replaced by Jose Calderon, and Russell’s was diagnosed with a mild MCL sprain and he was to be evaluated at halftime.
The more intriguing matchup came at the small forward position, with the rookie Ingram squaring off against an All-Star in George. Both teams came out firing on the offensive end, getting up and down the court.
Mozgov got the Lakers’ offense started on the right foot, getting multiple early buckets in the paint. However, it was Young that got hot in the first quarter, with consecutive 3-pointers to give the Lakers a brief 14-12 lead.
Upon hitting an early three, Ingram capitalized on a mismatch off a switch, scoring a bucket in the paint and giving the Lakers a 21-19 lead with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Walton turned to a bigger bench lineup than usual, when he inserted rookie Ivica Zubac alongside Tarik Black. The big men created quite the defensive presence, although it wouldn’t discourage the Pacers.
Pacers’ veteran Al Jefferson accepted a bench role when he signed with the team, being used as a scoring option in a reserve role. He backed down Zubac and converted on a three-point play, tying the game, 24-24.
Lou Williams was able to capitalize per usual on a drive to the left, drawing a foul and making all three free throws to give the Lakers a 27-24 lead at the end of the quarter.
Zubac started off the scoring for the second quarter, with another bucket inside the paint for the Lakers. After his tremendous performance against the Nuggets, Zubac received immediate minutes in Friday’s contest, attempting to make the most of it against Jefferson.
Whether it was Zubac or Black pitted against him, Jefferson kept scoring at will. In four minutes of action, he had 11 quick points, which counteracted the production from Williams. The former Sixth Man of the Year winner had 10 points, giving the Lakers a 35-30 advantage with less than nine minutes remaining in the half.
The Pacers responded quickly with a 6-0 run to capture the lead, as the Lakers were continually late on defense while also arguing with the referees. The officials were missing blatant calls that were hurting the Lakers, which resulted in Walton’s constant yelling from the sideline.
It took a turn for the worse for the Lakers when Young pulled up on a drive to his right. It looked like a non-contact injury, as he hopped to the bench and had to be taken to the locker room. The Pacers then turned it up offensively, gaining a five-point lead with just under three minutes remaining in the half.
While the Lakers remained aggressive offensively, they were coming up short at the rim, with consecutive baskets missed in the paint. Back-to-back three-point plays by Turner and Randle kept the Lakers in lead at one point, as the game turned up-tempo towards the end of the first half.
As the second quarter came to an end, the Lakers kept running their offense through Randle. After a timeout, Los Angeles used their ball movement to get their forward a layup. On the next play, multiple passes ended up with a Clarkson three, which tied the game at 49.
The Pacers closed out the half by getting multiple steals, which resulted in fastbreak buckets. A pair of Williams free throws, which gave him 12 points in the first half, cut the Pacers’ lead to two. At halftime, the Lakers trailed by a score of 53-51.
At halftime, Jefferson had 20 points, in 11 minutes of 7-for-11 shooting. Randle led the way for the Lakers with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists.