Game Night: Me and Andy Kamenetzky Preview Pacers/Lakers

Oh, the Lakers: the team that everyone talks about constantly despite the fact that they have the same number of wins as the Bobcats. Or, I guess the talk about them because of that reason. Though they would be equally discussed, I suppose, if they had any mathematically possible record this season.

Know who else is talking about the Lakers? Me and Andy Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles. Few have been watching the purple and gold as closely as he, and we had a little chat about how this season has gone so far for both teams and how tonight’s game might go.

Here is an extended excerpt. Click through to read the whole thing.

AK: Why do you think Hibbert has struggled?

JW: Some of it was pressure put on himself. He is a legitimately nice, responsible guy who feels a burden to live up to his new, $58 million contract. He has also simply struggled in areas that have long been a problem: establishing and holding low position, finishing with power, footwork in the paint, not making his moves quick enough. And the Pacers don’t have many players who are good at feeding the post. Granger isn’t exactly John Stockton, but he just has a higher basketball IQ than some others mopping up minutes (Gerald Green, Sam Young), so he has a better understanding of when to get Roy the ball and how to get out of his way to give him space.

Why are Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol struggling? I imagine it has little to do with confidence or being melancholy that they aren’t “earning” their money.

AK: Like everyone, they’ve been hurt by a chaotic training camp and early season. There have been signs of stability, but they come in fits, and nothing comes easier with Nash on the shelf.

For Dwight specifically, conditioning is a factor. He was expected by most to return in January, which means he’s ahead of schedule, but not truly up to speed. His timing and lift aren’t quite there yet, but I think the issues will work themselves out in time.

Pau’s problems are a little trickier. His conditioning also isn’t up to snuff, and he recently revealed a monthlong battle with tendinitis, which compounds the problem. Plus, like last season, he’s in the high post more than he’d like or what’s truly ideal. But some blame also lies with Pau. He’s often too willing to settle for an elbow jumper — which hasn’t been falling with regularity — rather than put the ball on the floor, attack and force a defender to actually guard him. Even with tendinitis, he needs to pick more spots to take a defender off the dribble. Ultimately, I think coach Mike D’Antoni will find a way to maximize his versatility, but it’ll take some tweaking.

Has David West asserted himself as the Pacers’ primary scorer?

JW: He has, although at times it’s felt less like something he has actually wanted and more like him saying, “If nobody else is going to do it…”

Still, coach Frank Vogel has encouraged it, saying the Pacers would love to run the offense through West as much as possible. Given Hibbert’s struggles to score and George’s inability to create off the dribble, there haven’t been a ton of other effective options.

I actually am looking forward to watching George guard Kobe Bryant. Like Hibbert, George seems to be playing with his head too much. He’s at his best when he doesn’t think, but just reacts. If he has to spend 80 percent of his time focused on Bryant, I think it may help him play better on the other end. Somewhat counterintuitive, but defense is George’s game and it will do him good to get back to that.

AK: Well, if a tough assignment is what the doctor ordered, consider Kobe a bottle of aspirin. A few scattered games notwithstanding, the guy has performed at an exceptionally high level, balancing scoring and facilitating duties. Judiciously selecting shots to great effect, Bryant has also been asked to be the primary playmaker with Nash and (to a lesser degree) Steve Blake out, and Kobe’s pick-and-roll quarterbacking has been downright masterful at times. Generally speaking, the Lakers have looked best this season when incorporating pick-and-roll action with Kobe and/or Gasol and Howard.

Tonight’s Projected Starters

George Hill Darius Morris

PG

Lance Stephenson Kobe Bryant

SG

Paul George Metta World Peace

SF

David West Pau Gasol

PF

Roy Hibbert Dwight Howard

C

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