On the road vs. the best in the NBA: LA Lakers at Indiana Pacers Preview

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The consolation prize for coming off of a tough loss on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets? Just the team with the best record in the NBA. You're welcome, Lakers.

Showtime: 4:00 pm PT

Plot: The Lakers are getting healthier, sort of. As evidenced by the return of yet another guard on Sunday, bringing the list of healthy bodies to a staggering 12, it seems that the roster is on its way to looking halfway normal. They certainly played like a squad shaking off the rust, falling to an undermanned and almost equally banged up Brooklyn Nets team with less than fantastic performances from Nick Young and Jordan Farmar. As we've written before, the remainder of this season is, if nothing else, an audition for next year's team. Every player on an expiring contract--which is just about everyone--is going to have to play hard and look their best in order to get paid this summer.

However, it's going to be tough doing that against the stingiest defense in the league as the Lakers descend on Indianapolis to take on the NBA-best Pacers.

LA will have to continue to regroup on the fly tonight while looking face to face with All-NBA Defense-quality players in MVP candidate Paul George, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Roy Hibbert and other lock down perimeter players like George Hill and Lance Stephenson. The Pacers will also see the debut of new addition Evan Turner, who the team dealt longtime All-Star Danny Granger for before last week's trade deadline. His first game in Indiana may be the most fascinating part of this game, as a Lakers loss seems almost academic at this point. Turner can be a handful to cover on any given night, with his massive frame, passing ability and willingness to get into the paint being a major part of his game.

In their first contest of the season against one another nearly a month ago, the Pacers won as they always do--holding the Show to under 40% shooting and winning the battle of the boards by over 20. Stephenson had the game of the night with a robust 15/14/6 night, while Paul George struggled on 4 for 21 shooting, but hit key shots in the fourth quarter when LA went on little semblances of an offensive run. It was a relatively lifeless affair on both ends of the floor, as the Pacers only really stuck it to the Lakers in the third quarter when they outscored their opponents by 10. It should be noted that Indiana isn't playing particularly well right now, going 3-3 in their last six games. Paul George is only shooting 40% this month, a departure from the rapturous form he was showing before the new year.

But even with the Pacers's recent dip in performance, there's really nothing more to say here--Indiana is by far the better squad that's facing a horrendous road team. The Lakers will continue to watch for more signs of life from Kent Bazemore, who went for 17 points in his first start on Sunday night, as well as a bounce back game from MarShon Brooks (who only played 18 minutes vs. Brooklyn). A win tonight, quite frankly, would be one of the most shocking developments of this entire year.

As the calendar slowly rolls into March, watching the Lakers becomes more and more about the niche parts of their game. Hopefully, these wrinkles will stay interesting enough to keep even the worst team of the Western Conference invested in playing hard every night.

--MAMBINO

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino

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