The Los Angeles Lakers always have stars. From Magic to Kobe, West to Shaq, there's always someone donning the purple and gold uniform who catches the eye of casual fans around the country. It's a surefire strategy too, having one of these world beaters on your roster, as evidenced by the fact that the Lakers have missed the playoffs only five times in their existence. That star power has led the Lakers down the road they find themselves on today, with a roster which is so top heavy, and everything else lite, that they are finding it difficult not to tip onto their own faces.
The Indiana Pacers have chosen a different path. Right now, the path they've chosen is looking pretty good. Indiana doesn't have a single star on their roster. They've got a couple All-Stars, but David West and Danny Granger have always been the lower echelon of that title, closer to Mo Williams than to LeBron James. Neither is a player you could consider good enough to build a team around. But, put them both on the same roster, add a promising hulk of a center in Roy Hibbert, splash in a couple point guards who were impressive in backup roles prior to coming to the Pacers, and you've got the makeup of a pretty good team. If this season's fast start is any indication, the Pacers might have themselves a real good team.
If you don't watch much ball outside the home team, you probably don't know that the Pacers have had a fine start to their season. Sitting at a record of 10-4, Indiana is currently 4th in what is looking like a much stronger than expected Eastern Conference. They've found success with a great defense and a balanced offensive attack. How balanced? Their leading scorer (Danny Granger) averages 16 points per game, less than the Lakers' 2nd leading scorer (Pau Gasol), and barely edging out the Lakers' 3rd leading scorer (Andrew Bynum). Then, after Granger, the Pacers have seven players averaging double figures. Nobody on the Pacers plays more than 33.6 minutes per game. Nobody takes more than 15 shots. There isn't a single flashy stat line on the entire roster. It hasn't stopped them from winning with great regularity.
How do they match up with the Lakers? I wish I could paint a picture where we might expect some strong advantages for the Lakers, but the Pacers have all the right boxes checked to take on L.A. Roy Hibbert is a big ass dude, 7'2" and 280 pounds of big. He's got the size to avoid getting bullied by Andrew Bynum, though Bynum is quicker than Hibbert and might be able to find success there. Still, Hibbert need only put up his arms and not be moved in order to provide better than average defense against our young center. The Pacers also have a quality perimeter defender in 2nd year man Paul George. George won't be able to shut Kobe Bryant down, because nobody can do that, but he's athletic enough and energetic enough to stay with Kobe and make Kobe work.
Which means the Lakers' opportunity lies most, once again, with Pau Gasol. Gasol will have David West (who Pau usually dominates, because he's a full head taller than the undersized West) and Tyler Hansborough standing between himself and the basket, and it is imperative that Pau be able to take advantage of those two guys with regularity. It's often happened that Gasol is the head of the Lakers' three-headed hydra with the easiest matchup on paper, and sadly, the Spaniard has rarely been able to take advantage of that matchup advantage when he's had it. Gasol has been steady this season, and severely underrated on defense, but his steady has not been enough for this team to be successful.
Defensively, that pick and roll defense should get plenty of work, as Derek Fisher will need to stay in front of Darren Collison as much as possible. Both David West and Tyler Hansborough have a good mid range game, so the pick and pop is often the Pacers weapon of choice. These are two very good defensive teams, and two very slow paced teams as well, so we'll be lucky if either team cracks 90, which is an all too familiar refrain in this difficult to watch or enjoy season of ours.
Hopefully, the Lakers will win. Then, at least we'll have tacos.