Here is what you need to know before the Lakers take their annual visit to Indiana for a meeting with the Pacers.
Kobe Bryant has found his rhythm in the Lakers’ last week of action, averaging 28.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The 20-year veteran has also poured in at least 23 points in four straight games for the first time since April 2013.
Bryant is set to play his final game in Indiana — the site of his first great NBA Finals game. After missing Game 4 against the Pacers due to an ankle injury, the 21-year-old scored 28 points in the following contest to hand Los Angeles a 3-1 series lead. Shaquille O’Neal fouled out midway through overtime, but Bryant maintained a steady hand by knocking down three clutch baskets, including an over-the-shoulder putback with 5.9 seconds left to seal the victory.
This contest is also a special one for Roy Hibbert, who is making his first trip back to the state where he spent all seven of his previous seasons in the NBA. The two-time All-Star left Indiana with the franchise’s fourth-most blocks (990).
All-Star starter Paul George has been one of the league’s elite two-way players, ranking eighth in scoring (23.4), fourth in 3-pointers (2.8) and seventh in free throws (5.8). On the other end, he is eighth in steals (1.9) and sixth in defensive field goal percentage (41.3). And in a blend of both sides to his game, he piles up the third-most points off turnovers (4.9).
George has frequently cited Bryant as one of his chief influences throughout his career. Earlier in the day, he said, “(I remember) being out in the front yard doing the whole three-second shot clock countdown. Then you shoot it and you’re like, ‘Kobe!’ That was me remembering everything from the pump fake to the death stare — just everything that Kobe did I used to try to do when I was little.”
Monta Ellis has shown capable of erupting offensively, such as when he dropped 32 points on Jan. 30. However, he has fallen into a bit of a slump since, shooting just 17-of-45, including 5-of-19 from 3-point range.
Ellis is joined in the Pacers’ backcourt by one of this season’s top outside shooters. George Hill is hitting 44.2 percent of his 3-pointers — which ranks fifth in the NBA.
Both teams’ coaches have ties to the other side. Byron Scott played two seasons for the Pacers, losing in both the 1994 and 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. About a decade later, Frank Vogel was an advance scout for the Lakers during the 2005-06 season.
Byron Scott shoots over New York's Greg Anthony during Game 2 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Indiana has the league’s most opportunistic defense, which averages an NBA-best 20.2 points off turnovers. However, over the past week, the Lakers have been allowing the fewest such points per game (9.5).
The Pacers’ knack for forcing mistakes has been the key behind placing fourth in the league in defensive efficiency (99.6). Indiana is above average in most defensive categories, but its ability to capitalize off turnovers has put its defense above most every other team’s.