After four straight road games, the Indiana Pacers are left with the Los Angeles Lakers to finish up their five-game West Coast trip. Sitting at 2-2 on said trip, the Pacers definitely don’t want to head back home with a 2-3 record and a two-game losing streak.
Without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have been a Western Conference bottom-feeder. At 16-19, the Lakers are a half game out of last place in the conference. Against the Lakers, the Pacers shouldn’t have a ton of problems, but given it’s a road game, you never know what Pacers team is going to show up.
So far the Pacers No. 1 ranked defense has been non-existent during their trip. In four games they’ve give up an average of 109.5 points. Before the start of the trip, they were giving up around 88 points per game and now that average has gone up to 90.2, still 2.7 points lower than the second-place Chicago Bulls. The lack of defensive dominance could spell trouble as the Lakers are accustomed to scoring 100.8 ppg and haven’t scored less than 100 in the last eight games.
Pau Gasol leads the Lakers with 16.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He had a brush with the injury bug at the end of December and missed three games, but since then he’s scored 20-plus points in 12 of the Laker’s past 14 games. Nick Young, who has stepped in nicely for Kobe, averages 17.0 ppg and has been a big part of keeping the Lakers from being the worst team in the NBA.
This game will mark the first time Paul George has returned home since he was announced as an NBA All-Star starter. George, a native Californian, grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Clippers – whom he torched for 36 points about a week ago – and idolized Kobe. On the season George is averaging 23.5 ppg, but he’s upped that to 25.8 ppg during this road trip.
While George will be the focal point of the night, as he always is, this game will fought in the trenches, so the Pacers’ big men will need to make an impact. Roy Hibbert and David West will need to figure out a way to guard Gasol and whoever starts at the power forward position, without getting into foul trouble. During this trip, Hibbert has averaged five fouls per game and has fouled out twice, while West is averaging 3.25 fouls and has been in foul trouble three out of the four games.
The significance of Hibbert and West staying out of foul trouble has to do with the way the Pacers defense plays. It’s their interior defense that sets them apart from everyone else and why they sport the No. 1 overall defensive unit. When either are in foul trouble, especially Hibbert, the opposing offense takes more chances driving to the basket as they know they won’t be met as aggressively and they won’t have to rely solely on taking low-percentage shots.
It’s going to be a good game, and likely feel like a home game for George. The Pacers are not as good on the road as they are at home and the Lakers will be another squad looking to claim a seldom victory over Indiana.