Pack your bags. Last one out of Conseco Fieldhouse, don't forget to turn off the lights.
The Indiana Pacers are headed on a west coast road trip that will really test their young team. It will begin with a contest against the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. The Pacers have never beaten the Lakers at the Staples Center. Their last win against the Lakers in L.A. came at the Great Western Forum in February of 1999, before the Lakers called Staples Center home.
Both teams are coming off of heartbreaking losses, as the Pacers fell at home Friday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant had 25 points, but it was Russell Westbrook that the Pacers couldn't stop. He finished with 43 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists as the Thunder took care of business in overtime.
Indiana lost Friday despite having all five starters score in double figures for the first time this season, with Granger leading the way with 30 points.
Indiana (7-7) has played a league-low five road games, but will nearly double that total this week. After its game against the Lakers on Sunday night, it will head to Sacramento on Tuesday night.
Following that game, the Pacers have a date the next night in Utah against the red-hot Jazz. They will finish up the West coast trip with a game in Phoenix against the high-powered Suns offense on Friday.
Just looking at the schedule, it appears the Pacers will be lucky to get two wins on this trip. Even though they beat the Heat last Monday, it would seem almost impossible to beat the Lakers on the road, and/or the Jazz and Suns.
Don't tell that to this team though; Danny Granger is confident they will be able to compete in every game: "Going out West, we feel we can play with any of them. We will give ourselves a chance to win."
Looking at the first game on Sunday night, the Pacers will have their hands full at every position. Normally when previewing a game, I will make a slide show with a break down of each position, and who has the edge as far as player personnel, and coaching. I'm not going to waste my time with this game, as the Lakers have the edge in every category.
There are several keys to the Pacers stealing a victory Sunday night in L.A. First of all, they will have to play defense, because the Lakers can put up numbers. They will almost certainly have to put Brandon Rush on Kobe for most of the game. Mike Dunleavy just doesn't have the quickness or defensive skills to guard him.
It will be interesting to see how the PG match up unfolds as well. Derek Fisher is one of the best veteran players in the game, and Collison is just in his second year, but has more quickness.
Ron Artest will probably limit Danny Granger, so they other guys are going to have to step up on offense. Roy Hibbert will have his hands full with Gasol, and Josh McRoberts should be able to do okay on Lamar Odom on defense, but he will have to provide them with some kind of offense. The bench is also going to have to step up and make plays if this team wants to compete in this game.
The turnovers have been coming down gradually this season, which is to be expected, and the assists will have to be up. They need to move the ball around and make the defense work. If they can somehow get the Lakers in foul trouble, it will help. If they can out hustle the Lakers, and keep it close going into the fourth quarter, anything can happen.
Phil Jackson is one of the greatest coaches anyone has ever seen, so he will have this team ready. He knows they can't afford to overlook this Pacers team. They defeated the Pacers in both games last season, by an average of 26 points.
I don't expect Indiana to be able to get the win on Sunday, but I expect them to compete. If they are able to somehow steal the win, it could really give them the momentum they need to start this tough West coast trip.