If it's possible for the No. 1 team in the Western Conference to give fans cause for concern ahead of the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers have plenty to worry about.
Saturday's 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers marks the third straight defeat for LA following double-digit losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. The Lakers offense has been out of sync for a week now and has just two seeding games left to correct its issues before the postseason begins.
LeBron James was given a rest against the Rockets. Danny Green had the day off Saturday. The Lakers struggled in both instances.
For the Pacers, it's a bounce-back victory after falling to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.
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T.J. Warren, SF, Indiana Pacers: 39 points, 5 rebounds, 15-of-22 FG
Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana Pacers: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists
Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers: 8 points, 8 rebounds, 3-of-14 FG
T.J. Warren Takeover Continues
This is no longer a fluke.
With forward Domantas Sabonis out of the bubble because of a foot injury and guard Victor Oladipo still trying to find a consistent rhythm, T.J. Warren has become not only the most dangerous scorer on the Pacers, but also the hottest shooter inside the NBA bubble.
His 34.8 points per game in the restart currently leads the NBA, and his 60.5 percent field-goal shooting (55.6 percent from three) make him a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. Faced with doing so late in Saturday's game against an All-Star defender in Anthony Davis, Warren had little issues sinking three straight clutch shots to hold off a late Lakers charge.
First Warren hit a layup with Davis fronting him, then hit a mid-range jumper with Davis closing in from behind and finally sank a three in the waning seconds of regulation off a Pacers defensive rebound.
The 26-year-old NC State product is blowing away his career average of 15.4 points per game and becoming a problem for coaches to plan against.
When James and Davis tried to guard the likes of Oladipo and Myles Turner, it left Warren free to operate in space. Yet by keying in on Warren, the Lakers let Malcolm Brogdon (24 points) get loose and find his shot.
Indiana still has a few games left to determine its playoff seeding. Whoever draws the Pacers will have a daunting challenge ahead—one that stumped the Western Conference's best team Saturday night.
Lakers Losing Steam
A week ago the Lakers were celebrating a Western Conference regular-season title.
There are few things to smile about at the moment.
Three straight losses isn't exactly reason for panic, but it's hard to see how Los Angeles has operated on the floor and not feel concerned. Before the league went on hiatus, the Lakers were averaging 113.8 points per game and allowing just 105.7 points. Since entering the bubble, L.A. is averaging 100.4 points and allowing 104.6.
The latter may be a sample size of only five games, but it doesn't make the numbers any easier to digest.
Add in the fact the team is without guards Rajon Rondo (injury) and Avery Bradley (opt-out)—along with Danny Green averaging 6.6 points on 7.0 field-goal attempts since play restarted—and the once-vaunted Lakers offense is suddenly on shaky ground.
Los Angeles has three games before the postseason begins to try turning things around. Once the playoffs begin, the losses will start to hurt much more than they do now.
The Lakers have another tough matchup coming Monday night against a Denver Nuggets team that's working toward clinching the No. 2 seed in the West. Tipoff is at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.
Indiana will also take the court Monday for its next game, meeting the Miami Heat at 8 p.m. in a non-nationally televised contest.
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