The Lakers come into tonight’s contest off a disappointing loss to an undermanned Atlanta Hawks team on Wednesday night. To make matters worse, Kobe Bryant left the arena with a severely sprained left ankle that he suffered on his game-tying shot attempt with 2.6 seconds left. Kobe is day-to-day, and at the time of publication there was nothing confirmed on whether he would play tonight or not. Earl Clark, who did not play in the second half against Atlanta with an injury, is likely to play tonight.
The Lakers’ opponent tonight is the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have built off the momentum of a tremendous 2011-2012 season that saw them take the eventual champion Miami Heat to six games in their best of seven second round matchup. Despite missing star forward and leading scorer from last season Danny Granger for all but five games this season, the Pacers are second in the Eastern Conference with a 40-24 record. They are a tough, physical team that hangs its hat on its defense, which is second in the league in points allowed per night.
Frontcourt: Center Roy Hibbert, who re-signed with the Pacers for 4-year, $58 million this summer, has recovered from a poor start to the season. Hibbert is the anchor of the Pacers’ stifling defense and he ranks third in the league at 2.7 blocks per game. Hibbert is a fundamentally sound big man that has the size and length at 7’2″ to alter shots at the rim from Lakers players. Offensively, he has a solid repertoire of post moves, but Dwight Howard will be able to handle him one on one on the block. However, it is imperative that Dwight does not get into early foul trouble in this one, particularly if Kobe is not 100 percent or does not play at all. The Lakers will almost certainly be unable to pull out a victory if Dwight gets in foul trouble early and they dig themselves a deep deficit.
Power forward David West comes in as the Pacers’ second leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. West is one of the most underrated players in the league today. He is a versatile forward who has a deadly midrange jumper as well as a good feel for the game on the low block. He is not overly athletic and relies on this jumper to set up many of his moves. Metta World Peace will likely start on him, and this is not a bad defensive matchup for the Lakers. World Peace has the discipline and the strength to contain West in one-on-one situations. However, the Lakers must be sure to rotate out to him and not let him get clean looks from 15-18 feet because that is where he thrives.
Backcourt: Paul George, a native Californian out of the city of Palmdale, is the Pacers’ leading scorer at 17.7 a night. George was a first time all-star this season and still has lots of upside. He is one of the better wing defenders in the league and can defend all guard positions at a high level. He is a good outside shooter (38 percent from three on the season) and has improved greatly as a playmaker off the dribble. His four assists per game are a career high and demonstrate his level of improvement in his third season.
George Hill starts at point guard and enters his second season with the team after spending the first three seasons of his career with the San Antonio Spurs. Hill is averaging a career high in points, rebounds, and assists. He is a high IQ player for the Pacers in the backcourt and does a good job of running the team. Hill is more of a shoot first point guard and he is more than capable of hurting the Lakers off of open jumpers and shots off the dribble. Lakers guards must go over the top of all on ball screens to prevent Hill from getting open looks.
Keys to Victory:
Win the Rebounding Battle: The Pacers lead the NBA in rebounds per game, and the Lakers will have their hands full with them on the glass. The Pacers are one of the most relentless and physical teams in the league, and their work on the glass is evidence of this. They are first in rebound differential (4.9 per game) and fourth in offensive rebounds per game at 12.8 per game. This is another reason why Howard must keep a level head with the physicality that the Pacers will bring because the Lakers will surely get destroyed on the boards while Howard is out of the game.
Big Game from Nash: With Kobe a question mark for tonight’s game, Steve Nash must take a larger role offensively. Even if Kobe plays, Nash will likely have to go back to his role of bringing the ball up the court more consistently and facilitating the offense. He also must reduce his turnover total to three or less in order for the Lakers to pull out the victory. Something along the lines of 17-18 points and double digit assists is likely necessary from Nash tonight as well if the Lakers want to be victorious.
Los Angeles Lakers (34-32) at Indiana Pacers (40-24)
4:00 PM PST, March 15, 2013
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
CA TV: TWC Sports Network
Pacers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: George Hill
SG: Lance Stephenson
SF: Paul George
PF: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: C Ian Mahinmi, F Tyler Hansbrough, G D.J. Augustin