Three Things to Know: Lakers at Pacers 2-2-23
After a well-deserved victory against the Knicks on Tuesday night, the Lakers (24-28) continue their road trip in Indiana for the last game against the Pacers (24-28) of the season. Game tips at 4 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPN radio.
Here are three things to know before the game:
CLOSE ON STORY
LeBron is just 89 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, which at his current rate is about three production games.
After his 28-point performance against the Knicks on Tuesday night, LeBron was asked if the weight gets heavier as Kareem’s buildup gets closer. LeBron shared where his head was at as the record breaking moment approached:
“No, it doesn’t get heavier because … I’m going to,” LeBron said. “I mean, it’s just a matter of time when I’m going to do it. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be in this league for at least a few more years, so I’m going to do it. It’s not not heavy at all.
One of LeBron’s favorite sayings is to “keep the essentials as the essentials,” and that kind of compartmentalization applies here as well.
As he gets closer to the record, there will be a lot of outside noise and potential distractions to deal with. But shifting the conversation to a question of “when” and not “if” can help diffuse some of the noise and, at least internally, keep the focus on the team’s overall game.
RUI’S LITTLE SAMPLE SIZE THEATER
It’s only been a few games, but Rui Hachimura continues to find his rhythm and fluidity within the context of his new team structures. He contributes on both sides of the ball and had his best performance since joining the team in Tuesday’s win over the Knicks when he scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and had a critical block in the stretch to help seal the win.
That level of individual impact is wonderful, but how he fits in next to LeBron and AD as part of different lineup cores may be of even greater importance to the team’s long-term success. . And while it’s still early days, we’re beginning to see how some of these grassroots groups can work.
Here’s how the Lakers fare when different combinations of LeBron, AD and Rui split the floor:
All three: 40 minutes, offensive rating 115.0, defensive rating 103.8, +11.2 netLeBron and Rui, no AD: 21 minutes, offensive rating 134.1, defensive rating 60.5, +73, 6 netAD and Rui, no Lebron: 19 mins, 109.3 offensive rating, 95.2 defensive rating, +14.1 net
Again, these samples are small and we shouldn’t rush into numbers as strong as they are. But, these are great early returns and hint at a strong long-term fit between Rui and his superstar partners on the pitch.
THE FALL OF INDY
Back on November 28, the Pacers beat the Lakers on a buzzer-beating three-pointer that capped a 17-point comeback in the 4th quarter to give them an unlikely victory. The game earned them four games over .500 for the season, a level of success they mostly maintained as they emerged as one of the feel-good stories in the league. NBA season.
Over the past month, however, injuries have hit and they have dropped in the standings as the losses piled up. After rising to 4th place in the Eastern Conference in early December, the Pacers are now 10th after losing nine of their last 10 games – all (not so coincidentally) without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
The good news for Indy — and at the same time, a challenge for the Lakers — is that Haliburton is expected to return to the lineup tonight. Haliburton is the Pacers’ main offensive driver, averaging 20.2 points and 10.2 assists per game on 48/40/88 shooting. Beyond his individual production, his return will also reinsert the rest of the team into better sized and more suitable roles, which should only make their game easier as well.
Tonight, then, the Lakers will be tasked with seeing an important player return, which can both inspire and require some tweaking – especially when that player is a key part of their offensive offense.
If the Lakers are to come out on the right side of the scoreboard, however, they can’t take for granted that there will be rust or a period of adjustment back to Haliburton’s entrance. They should expect him to be at his best and respond with the amount of energy and attention to detail required despite Indy’s recent struggles.