Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers at Lakers 120122
Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (10-4) vs. Lakers (10-7)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: This already has been a streak-busting year for the Pacers, and they lopped off a couple more Friday night. When George Hill's steal and three-point play delivered a 94-91 victory at Golden State, it snapped a 13-game road skid against Western Conference teams, and a four-game streak in Oakland. They've already broken skids of five in Toronto and seven in Boston this season, not to mention the big one -- a streak of 31 consecutive games lost in which they had shot less than 40 percent. Now, they'll try to do something else out of the ordinary. If they beat the Lakers, they'll produce a winning record on a Western road trip for the first time since 2009. They had never won in Staples Center until a 95-92 victory last season and now they're going for two in a row.
Easier said than done, of course, but not out of reach. Good signs were evident Friday as Danny Granger (26 points) and David West (18) both posted season highs and Roy Hibbert had a career-high 16 rebounds and his seventh double-double of the season. The offense continues to emerge from its early slumber with more emphasis on the running game. The Pacers have averaged 16.4 fast-break points in winning four of their last five, up from 9.6 in their first nine games. This is not a team that needs big numbers to succeed; Indiana is 9-0 when scoring at least 90.
SCOUTING THE LAKERS: There has been no shortage of turmoil or distraction in Mike Brown's first season as head coach. From the failed attempt to trade for Chris Paul to the ongoing rumors of interest in Dwight Howard to the banishment of Lamar Odom to Dallas to Kobe Bryant's reported $18.8 million divorce settlement, it's been a dramatic year already. At 10-7, the Lakers are in the unusual position of being the second-best team in Los Angeles and currently stand seventh in the West, teetering in the precipice of lottery land.
They're coming off two of their worst games of the year, consecutive losses in Florida to the Heat (98-87) and Magic (92-80). Not only were they the Lakers' two lowest-scoring games this season, they shot less than 40 percent in both. Brown's emphasis in improving the defense is taking root as the Lakers rank third in field goal percentage allowed (.411) and fifth in points allowed (90.1) but the offense hasn't found any kind of rhythm. They're 23rd in scoring (92.1) and tied for 29th in 3-point percentage (.257).
Kobe Bryant (30.4) is the league's leading scorer and Andre Bynum (13.6 rebounds) is third in rebounds while adding 15.8 points per game. Pau Gasol is doing his usual thing, averaging 16.3 points and 9.4 rebounds, but beyond those three the Lakers have a severe dropoff in productivity. The second unit features three former Pacers in Josh McRoberts (4.0 points, 4.6 rebounds), Troy Murphy (3.4 points, 4.2 rebounds) and Metta World Peace (5.1 points, .323 shooting).
KEY MATCHUP: No need to over-think this one. Kobe Bryant will be the latest challenge for the Pacers' emerging defensive stopper, Paul George, and perhaps the greatest. Bryant is on a major roll, averaging 33.8 points in the last 11 games, scoring at least 30 eight times. George doesn't have to try to stop Bryant but rather make him work as hard as possible for buckets. In the Lakers' wins, Bryant shots 47 percent and averages nine free throw attempts; in losses, he shoots 43 percent and averages seven free throw tries. It would be a nice bonus if George could regain his shooting stroke. He's gone 5-of-19 from the 3-point line in the last seven games and is shooting just 39 percent overall in that span.
QUOTE MARKS: "We just had to come in, take care of business and now it's going to be a good challenge against the Lakers. … We know we can play with anybody in any building and we're looking forward to the challenge with the Lakers." - Pacers Coach Frank Vogel
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Jeff Foster (lower back procedure) is not with the team. For the Lakers, Steve Blake (rib fracture) and Derrick Caracter (left knee) are out.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast at 9:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brooke Olzendam hosting the pre-game show at 9. The radio broadcast is anchored by the flagship of the Pacers' network, WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle in his 24th season of play-by-play, and Kevin Lee reporting.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.