Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Both teams have struggled over the first month of the season, with the Lakers already undergoing a coaching change and the Pacers being without star forward Danny Granger.
Momentum is on the Lakers' side. The victory in Dallas was the team's first road win of the season, and not a moment too soon. Los Angeles now begins a three-game homestand, with two of the contests being against sub-.500 teams.
One of these teams is the Pacers, although they have won two of their last three, with forward Paul George and center Roy Hibbert recently turning in fine performances in a November 21 overtime win against the New Orleans Hornets. That euphoria was short-lived, as Indiana blew a 17-point lead against the San Antonio Spurs in a loss on November 23.
The Lakers have surely watched tape of both games, and will look to use their overall experience and fast-paced offense to overwhelm the young Pacers. However, despite their struggles this season, Indiana is still a team that ranked third in the Eastern Conference in 2012.
If the Lakers think this is going to be an easy game, they'll be in for a rude awakening by the final buzzer. They therefore must play with the same discipline they showed against Dallas, if victory is to be achieved.
Time: Tuesday, November 27th, 10:30 p.m. EST
TV: Fox Sports Indiana, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet
Records: Indiana Pacers (6-8) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7-7)
Betting Lines: Indiana (+7 1/2), Los Angeles (-7 1/2)
Injuries: Steve Nash (leg, out), Steve Blake (abdomen, probable), Danny Granger (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Look to Ride Momentum From First Road Win Back Home
There's no other way to say it: The Los Angeles Lakers have been disappointing this season. Granted, Steve Nash is a big loss, and his absence could very well be one of the reasons why the team has struggled so far, but the rest of the starters are talented enough to bring home a victory without him.
The fact that the Lakers were able to defeat the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks by such a wide margin over the weekend is a testament to their overall depth, as no one player outshone the other. Antawn Jamison's 19 points and 15 rebounds off the bench is proof of this, as is his sharing the scoring lead with both Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace.
That isn't to say that the Lakers' problems are completely solved. Pau Gasol has recently complained about his role in head coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, but there has been little word on that front since the 7'0" Spaniard made the comments. He managed 13 points and nine rebounds against Dallas, but the elephant is still in the room and must be discussed at some point.
All issues aside, the Lakers need to use their win against the Mavericks as a motivating tool going forward. Even without Nash, D'Antoni's fast-paced offense worked, and no one man needed to be the star to help bring home the victory.
The stage is set for a winning streak to begin. All that the Lakers need to do is stay disciplined and focused for it to actually happen.
Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Roy Hibbert
Per usual, Dwight Howard has been solid at center. Despite a recent slump, he is averaging 18 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Hibbert has not been so lucky. After a career season in 2011-12, the former Georgetown Hoya has not looked like himself over his first 14 games. His defense is there at 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, but his offense has been terrible.
Hibbert is averaging just 9.6 points per game and shooting only 38 percent from the field. The saddest part is that a majority of his field-goal attempts have come within just a few feet of the basket, where centers are expected to be highly effective on offense. His going 5-of-18 from the field in Indiana's loss against San Antonio is just the icing on the cake regarding his scoring problems.
However, despite his struggles, Hibbert has something of an advantage against Howard: Whereas the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is 6'11", 265 pounds, Hibbert is 7'2", 280 pounds.
A height advantage doesn't count for much, and Howard is a much better athlete, but it is still something Hibbert must try to use in order to shut down the Lakers' tough center. An explosive big man plays a great role in Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun, pick-and-roll heavy offense, and taking Howard out of the equation immediately forces the Lakers to adjust their attack.
He isn't likely to outplay Howard, but Hibbert must give his best effort nonetheless. Just making Howard have a tough game could be enough to swing the contest in the Pacers' favor. He had 11 blocks in his team's victory against the Hornets, so it's time for him to bring a similar effort against the championship-caliber Lakers.
X-Factor: Dwight Howard
With a taller center guarding him, it is extremely important that Howard use his superior athleticism to have a good game. He is so good at fighting past defenders and scoring in the paint, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to give the young Hibbert a lesson in effectiveness.
Unlike his less-experienced opponent, Howard has been an absolute beast on offense. He has shot 59 percent from the field and does almost all of his offensive work under the basket.
Now, as was mentioned before, a majority of Hibbert's field-goal attempts have been in the same area, and he has struggled mightily. He has only made 37.7 percent of his shots under the basket.
Howard, on the other hand, has been the exact opposite in that regard. All but nine of his field-goal attempts on the season have come under the basket, where he has shot about 61 percent. He has greatly succeeded where Hibbert has failed.
The stage is thus set for him to have a great game, despite being three inches shorter than his opponent. Howard is a fine defender who must take full advantage of Hibbert's struggles on offense and simply force him to throw up contested shots. On the other side of the floor, he needs to use his body to keep Hibbert on his heels and just take him to school.
If he can get Hibbert in early foul trouble, that would be all the better.
The fact is that Howard is the key to the Lakers' beating Indiana and starting a winning streak, and he will surely stop at nothing to help bring home a victory.
The Pacers are going to be hungry for a win after such a bad loss to San Antonio, and will come into the game with their heads held high. They will put up a respectable effort from start to finish, but it's just not going to be enough against the veteran Lakers.
Indiana has some talented players in Paul George and David West, but Hibbert's continuing struggles and inconsistency from every other man on the roster make it impossible to call this an upset win for them.
Who will win?
Dwight Howard is going to have an absolutely dominating game in the paint, despite his usual struggles at the free-throw line. Look for him to have a double-double and also have a fine night in the shot-blocking department.
Kobe Bryant will have a great night in scoring and continue to be the Lakers' lead playmaker in Nash's absence. Metta World Peace will continue to flourish in D'Antoni's offense. Even Pau Gasol will have a good game, both in and out of the post.
Granted, this isn't going to be a blowout victory by any means, but the run-and-gun game will be in full force as the Lakers ride it to a win. Indiana will only be able to do so much, and they'll walk away with a 2-7 record on the road.
Los Angeles Lakers 112, Indiana Pacers 101
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