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Lakers vs. Pacers Preview: LeBron James returns in final game of road trip

After the fiasco in the Lakers-Pistons game held LeBron James out of Tuesday’s contest against the Knicks, The King will return back to the lineup to try and close out the road trip with a win.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers will be traveling from New York to Indianapolis to take on the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back after Tuesday’s 106-100 loss against the Knicks. The game will be the final stop in the team’s five-game road trip before heading home to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families.

After their comeback win against the Pistons was considered to be a turning point for the season, the Lakers followed that up with a poor first half performance against the Knicks that they could ultimately not come back from. They’ll quickly have to re-focus to the Pacers, and luckily, they’ll (likely) have LeBron James coming back after serving his one-game suspension.

A win against the Pacers would send the Lakers home in good spirits before having four games in the state of California (including three in the Staples Center) against the likes of the Kings, Pistons, and Clippers. Before making that trip home, let’s take a look at how the Lakers and Pacers stack up against each other.

Checking in with the Pacers

Because they’re an Eastern Conference team based in the midwest, the Pacers can easily fly under the radar for Lakers fans. They definitely don’t have the star power to help them in this regard, either, although they do have one of the more respected head coaches in the NBA in the past decade in Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle is coaching his first season with the team after leaving the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason. Carlisle coached the Mavericks for 13 seasons, with his current stop in Indiana serving as a bit of a homecoming as he coached the Pacers for four seasons before taking the Mavs job.

The Pacers come into this game with a record of 8-11 that has them third-to-last in the current East standings. That record is a little deceiving in regards to how they’ve played, however, as they’ve lost plenty of close games. This can be seen in their 1.6 net rating on the season that ranks 12th in the NBA. That has to sting when they look at other teams in their conference like the 11-8 Charlotte Hornets who have the 20th-best net rating while sitting at fifth in the conference’s standings.

The reason for this can be seen in the NBA’s clutch statistics, which track teams’ effectiveness where there are five minutes or less left in their games with the deficit within five points. For all their troubles this season, the Lakers rank 13th in the NBA in net rating in the clutch, while the Pacers rank 25th, with a putrid net rating of -23.9 in those moments.

The Lakers should obviously have an advantage in this one if it’s close late. In addition, they’ll have an advantage across the entire 48 minutes if they can get out and run on fast breaks like they’re are designed to do. You can definitely see their desires to run reflected in the league’s pace rankings, as the Lakers are ranked second in that regard.

The Pacers like to play at a much slower pace, coming into Wednesday’s game as the 21st-ranked team in that regard. It’ll be paramount that the Lakers speed up the game as much as they can to get to their chosen tempo, as the Pacers can be very efficient in the half-court with the 8th-ranked field-goal percentage in the league. Two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis is a big reason for this, as he’s making 57.3% of his baskets while scoring 17.3 points per game.

With the full Lakers’ Big Three on the floor (assuming Anthony Davis’ illness doesn’t worsen overnight after playing against the Knicks), this is definitely a game that the Lakers can win. However, we all know from the rollercoaster ride of this season that no game is easy for this Lakers team. It also doesn’t help that the Lakers will be at a rest disadvantage coming off the loss against the Knicks, with the Pacers’ last game taking place on Monday against the Bulls.

But if they can keep this one close and play the way they want to play offensively, then they could just have a W to be thankful for heading into their day off on Thanksgiving.

Notes and Updates:

  • Vogel said it’s “unlikely” Austin Reaves will play against the Pacers. Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza will also remain out.
  • The Pacers’ Caris LeVert will come into this game questionable with back soreness. The Pacers have no other injuries to note (a very different situation from what the Lakers have going on).

The Lakers and Pacers will tip-off at 4 p.m. PT, with the game being televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.