The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to tip off the second part of the 2020-21 season rejuvenated when they host the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
L.A. lost seven out of the last 10 games before the All-Star break, which seemingly couldn’t come soon enough for the defending NBA champions. On paper, the Pacers could be a convenient opponent to face in order to leave the mid-season crisis behind. After a promising start to the season, Indiana went 9-15 since trading away Victor Oladipo as part of the blockbuster James Harden trade in January.
Hit hard by health issues that ruled out Caris LeVert — who was diagnosed with a small mass on his kidney after he landed in Indianapolis in the aftermath of the trade — and Orlando bubble star T.J. Warren for an extended period of time, the Pacers have been equally average on offense and defense.
Yet, their biggest vulnerability appears to lay in the paint. Indiana grabs 41.6 rebounds per game, a second-worst average in the NBA, allowing the rivals to register 44.7 boards a night. In the absence of Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell could have plenty of opportunities to make their presence felt in the paint on both ends of the floor.
However, the Pacers are third in the league in blocks per game — in big part thanks to the rim protection prowess of Myles Turner. The 24-year-old center again leads the NBA with 3.4 rejections per game and a significant advantage over second-placed Rudy Gobert (2.7 blocks per game).
While the Lakers might feel encouraged to drive into the painted area often, they should certainly watch out for the 6-foot-11 center waiting to swat the ball away. Neutralizing Turner’s block threat could score major points for Damian Jones, who L.A. seemingly wants to take a closer look again on a second 10-day contract.
The game might serve as an opportunity for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to finally regain his lethal shooting form, which he mysteriously lost some time at the beginning of the year. Since the start of February, the guard has been converting just 31.7% of his attempts from behind the three-point line after reaching efficiency in the mid-50s in the first weeks of the season.
The Pacers are magnanimous on the perimeter allowing their opponents to shoot 38.1% from deep. Just like he did in the Orlando bubble, this could be the game Caldwell-Pope clears his mind for, erupts from downtown, and reestablishes himself as L.A.’s primary sharpshooter the team has really missed.
The mid-season crisis didn’t seem to have crushed the spirit in the Lakers’ locker room even though the loss to the Sacramento Kings right before the break hurt. But nothing would uplift a hurting team more than a confident victory to begin the decisive part of the regular season.
Because even if you’re down at halftime, there still is plenty of basketball to play.
Lakers' status report for tomorrow's game against the Pacers: pic.twitter.com/1MSqogMj3p
— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) March 12, 2021
Unfortunately in this one though, the Lakers will once again be without their two starting big men in Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol. Davis is continuing to rehab Achilles and calf injuries, while Gasol still has not cleared the league’s health and safety protocols
Lakers (24-13) vs. Pacers (16-19)
7:30 p.m. PT, March 11, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris
Projected Pacers starting lineup:
PG: Malcolm Brogdon
SG: Justin Holiday
SF: Doug McDermott
PF: Domantas Sabonis
C: Myles Turner
Key Reserves: T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner
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