Lakers face Pacers for second time this week

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers scored 150 points in their win over the Pacers last Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Lakers are hot.

Winners of 5 games in a row, the Lakers are now 41-32. They haven’t won 5 straight games since they closed the 2020-21 season. And they certainly never were 9 games above .500 in the last two seasons. Things are certainly clicking and this is honestly the team that most people thought we were going to see for most of the season.

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Last Sunday, the Lakers were stuck in a track meet against the Pacers and defense became optional for the most part. And guess where the Lake Show is going to get down on Friday night? In Indiana. They’re going to have the rare occasion of going against the Pacers, an Eastern Conference team, for the third time this season.

We all know they clashed in the Finals of the In-Season Tournament. And then there was the aforementioned match-up from last Sunday. So the Lakers have owned this season series so far. But the Pacers are also fighting for position in the East so of course, they’re not going to lay down on the court and let the Lakers run all over them.

In fact, the Pacers would love to run with them (Indiana is 2nd in pace, which is very fitting). Yes, Indiana had played better defense before Sunday’s game as they held their last 6 of 7 opponents to 111 points or fewer. They were a Top 5 defense in that 13-day span, going 5-2 in that stretch. And some of those wins weren’t exactly against bologna sandwiches; they defeated Orlando, Oklahoma City, and Golden State.

But scoring is addicting and both the Lakers and Pacers fell into it on Sunday. Like I said, defense became optional in that game and we all got more than we bargained for. The teams combined for 295 points and I think we’re likely going to see something closer to that than a Bulls/Knicks slugfest from 1993.

Still, if the Lakers want to win their 6th straight, they’ll have to work on some things. Maybe try not to fall in love with running and gunning. The Lakers are definitely capable of playing some lockdown defense, especially if Anthony Davis (listed as questionable) suits up. The turnovers really knocked the Lakers for a loop in that first half against the Pacers. They turned the ball over 9 times in those first two quarters. But they settled down and only had one giveaway in the second half. It is not good to waste possessions and the Lakers certainly did well in taking care of the rock.

The Lakers did a really good job with Tyrese Haliburton (12 points off 13 shots) but Pascal Siakam went off for 36 (19 in the third quarter). Then again, everyone in a Pacer uni seemed to have a good scoring day; 8 Pacers had double figures. At the same time, Spencer Dinwiddie had a season-best 26 points in D’Angelo Russell’s place (who didn’t play). Maybe the dynamic will look a tad different with Russell playing but either way, we’re probably going to get another stampede with these two teams.

The three-pointers are always a concern. The Lakers may shoot better in threes now (6th in the league now at .380!) but the volume isn’t as high (2nd fewest in the league). The Pacers made 18 against them (albeit some of them were during a late rally) while the Lakers only made 12 on Sunday. As long as they don’t go wild from behind the arc, they should be okay. But make them work for it instead of giving them the open looks.

Finally, there’s the focus. If the Lakers are up by 17, kick them while they’re down and build the lead to 27. In today’s National Basketball Association, 17-point leads and the like aren’t as safe as they used to be. The teams play faster. Teams shoot better and more often, especially from behind the arc. And the games today work more for the offense. So no letting go of the rope or the gas pedal (whichever Coach-speak you prefer). It nearly cost them the game on Sunday and it nearly became a winnable game for Memphis last Wednesday. And as we all know, they’ve lost a lot of games this season because they played it too cool. But I suppose the focus has been better because the stakes are higher.

And it’s going to get higher and higher as the season closes in 16 days. After this, they have 8 regular season games left. Every one of them counts. And they need to win as many as they can to avoid a ‘win-or-go-home’ scenario in the play-in (7th and 8th seeds get two chances to win one game and clinch a playoff spot while the 9th and 10th have to win two games to get a spot). Yes, the Top 6 is still within reach as well.

Either way, let’s see if they can defeat the Pacers for a third time this season. And let the rest take care of itself.