If you combine the first, second and fourth quarters, the Lakers played an extremely even game against the team with the league's best record. In those three frames, they were only outscored by one point, an alarming sign coming from a Pacers team that looked out of synch all night.
Well, almost all night.
Indy beat down the Lakers on Tuesday, defeating LA on the strength of an incredible 34-16 third quarter that stretched an unbelievably small 3 point margin into a 21 point lead. The Pacers stretched out their offensive output tonight, with seven players in double digit scoring, including a team-high from Paul George with 20. New roster addition Evan Turner who was acquired during last week's trading deadline for Indy mainstay Danny Granger made his debut for the Pacers, looking a little tentative at times. The former Ohio State star scored 13 points and secured 6 rebounds, using his size and strength to bully his way into the paint against a LA defense that couldn't sustain their first half energy. It was surprising how inefficient the Pacers were overall against the Lakers for a majority of the game, as the team only shot 46% and committed 17 turnovers. Stunning, in fact.
However, whatever the Pacers brought was more than enough to overwhelm a Lakers team that's again messing with its rotations in the hopes of identifying marketing value for many of its future free agents. Kent Bazemore started once more and scored 23 points, reducing back court teammate Kendall Marshall's minutes to a sparing 18 on the night. Former fellow Warrior MarShon Brooks poured in 11 off the bench, but again didn't look great against a Pacers interior defense that punished his attempts at cutting through traffic either looking for a bucket or a dish.
After the game, Pau Gasol complained that the team isn't playing with an identity or discipline--I'd wholeheartedly agree with him. This is a squad that's not playing to form a game plan for the remaining contests this year. They're almost entirely playing for next year. They're trying to see what their young players are capable of and just what their ceiling are given playing time and shot attempts.
Kent Bazemore doesn't deserve 39 minutes. Ryan Kelly shouldn't be playing more than Jordan Hill. But in a season where the playoffs are already almost a mathematical impossibility in late February, the purpose of each game isn't to do what it takes to win. It's essentially just a prolonged, expensive exhibition season. That all showed in a loss to the Pacers that, with some more careful planning and line-up continuity, could have been a stunning win in Indianapolis.
But that's not the driving purpose of the Los Angeles Lakers organization right now. Losing to the best record in the NBA? Just another part of it.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino