The Los Angeles Lakers have shown tremendous resiliency since the month of February as injuries have robbed them of several key contributors. Kyle Kuzma’s return to action Friday night was a welcomed sight, but it wasn’t enough for the Lakers to avoid a loss to the Miami Heat.
It was a tough pill to swallow for a young team with such high expectations in place, as the Lakers continue on without forward Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. They now shift their attention to Monday’s opponent, the Indiana Pacers, for the opener of a four-game road trip.
Indiana enters play occupying the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, in what has turned into a remarkable season. Following the trade of Paul George, many expected the Pacers to be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, but head coach Nate McMillan has his team fully invested towards their playoff run.
The catalyst for Indiana has been Victor Oladipo, who was selected to his first All-Star game earlier this season. Oladipo is putting together his best season in the NBA, averaging career highs in points (23.5), rebounds (4.7), assists (4.2), steals (2.2), and field-goal percentage (.471).
The starting lineup alongside Oladipo has a tremendous amount of versatility on the court, including anchor Myles Turner. The third-year player has the confidence to challenge every shot at the rim. The Lakers may remember his swat on Tarik Black’s monster dunk attempt last season.
However, Turner recently suffered a left ankle sprain and though he’s expected to play, will likely be somewhat limited. The Pacers tend to rely on a smaller starting lineup, with Turner as the lone big man on the court. This creates a challenge for Indiana, as Julius Randle and Brook Lopez have dominated the paint in recent games.
Randle should wreak havoc against the smaller Pacers lineup. He has put together a double-double in five of the last six games, including an average of 27.3 points over the last four.
One key factor on the way to Indiana’s 40 wins has been the depth of their roster, with a 10-man rotation full of NBA veterans. Scorers like Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, and Glenn Robinson bring an immediate impact into the game, while Darren Collison and Trevor Booker provide grit and strength to McMillan’s bench.
At the same time, the Lakers understand the importance of a bench throughout an 82-game season. The past few games came with a lack of depth for head coach Luke Walton, a catastrophic difference from their second-half resurgence.
When healthy, the Lakers roster had nine impact players on the roster at all times. However, the team has now had to rely on their two-way options and recent signees like Travis Wear to provide a spark.
With Ingram and Hart both out, Isaiah Thomas shifted into the starting lineup in Kuzma’s absence. Although temporarily filling a role as sixth man, Thomas sent out a reminder that he is fully convinced of his status as a starter in the NBA.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope saw a streak of 12 consecutive games with double-digit points come to an end Friday night. While he only scored only six points, Caldwell-Pope added nine rebounds and four assists.
Additionally, his defensive efforts continues to remain a constant for the Lakers, and it will be key as he figures to draw the challenge of slowing Oladipo.
Three Keys To Victory
Battle Of The Second Units: The Lakers have been plagued by their recent lack of depth, having to really on their starters for a majority of the scoring. Conversely, the Pacers enter Monday’s showdown with a bench unit that is just as impressive as their starters.
The second unit of Los Angeles will have to limit the scoring bursts in the battle of benches, while executing the offense in order to come away with open looks.
Protect The Paint: The Pacers are filled with players who thrive on slashing to the rim and attacking the basket. At the same time, the Pacers starting lineup tends to have consistency issues with shooting from 3-point range.
Walton’s team needs to make a concerted effort to collectively sink their defense towards the basket, to limit as many open shots as the rim as possible.
Play To Their Strengths: Los Angeles will have a clear advantage in the paint against the Pacers. The Lakers need to look to both Randle and Lopez to get some points in the paint early on, which will only help space the floor as the game progresses.
Los Angeles Lakers (31-38) Vs. Indiana Pacers (40-30):
4:00 P.M. PST, March 19, 2018
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Ivica Zubac, Travis Wear
Projected Pacers Starting Lineup:
PG: Corey Joseph
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Mylers Turner
Key Reserves: Al Jefferson, Darren Collison, Lance Stephenson