Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Lakers Preview

USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers are spiraling down the standings, with a once standout locker room starting to show cracks in its facade after a 2-5 road trip. What better welcome home gift than the team with the best record in the NBA?

Showtime: 7:30pm PT

Plot: In Laker land, the challenges truly never stop. That's nothing new. Every time the team wins a championship, the natural question not five full minutes after the final buzzer is: "Can the team repeat?"

For the 2013-2014 Lakers, it seems like the never ending challenges get tougher and tougher, with the stakes lower and lower. At this point, with the playoffs out of sight and the health of several missing players still in question, it just seems like the daily challenge for this squad is simply to just not embarrass themselves.

After a seven game road trip that ended with four straight losses and a once proud locker room showing cracks in their chemistry, it's going to be hard for the Lakers to keep their dignity against the team with the best record in the NBA.

The Indiana Pacers visit LA tonight in what will be the Lakers's first game at STAPLES Center in nearly two weeks. The Show has shunted down the standings, in a virtual tie for last place in the Western Conference (they are actually in 13th place because of a couple tiebreakers with the also 16-29 Utah Jazz and one half game up on the 15-29 Sacramento Kings). The Lakers have played competitive, but ultimately losing basketball during almost the entire Grammy Road Trip, giving away games with a potent combination of poor rebounding, rampant turnovers and porous defense. Any way you cut it, the Lakers look like a W to just about any team with some sort of confidence these days, a damning statement for a team that still plays really hard on any given night. Against Indiana, all the effort in the world probably won't matter.

At 34-9, the Pacers are the only remaining NBA team with single digit losses, leaving them as the top dog in the league. They win game after game on the fruits of their extraordinarily stifling defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Roy Hibbert, MVP candidate Paul George and Most Improved Player candidate Lance Stephenson. They are a lock-down machine, reducing nearly every opposing offense to a Junior Varsity scoring night. They have yielded 100 points just nine times this season, which includes an overtime game.

That alone may spell doom for this Lakers team that has been actually decent offensively, but can't stop anyone anymore. The Pacers have a mediocre offensive attack, but that seldom matters with how fantastic they are defensively. George Hill and Lance Stephenson figure to have their way with a Lakers D that's ceded great scoring nights to the corpse of Raymond Felton, Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and journeyman D.J. Augustin.

Perhaps the adrenaline of being at home for the first time in a while will fuel the Lakers for a few quarters, but a victory against what I consider the best team in the league would be stunning. As I've written night after night, the Lakers just do not have the requisite talent to win these type of games, even at STAPLES, even with the lift after a long road trip. What any Laker fan should be looking for tonight is the continued improvement of Ryan Kelly, as well as how Kendall Marshall fares with such an oppressive defense upon him.

That's what we're reduced to these days, my friends. Silver linings, featuring Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly.

--MAMBINO

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino

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