Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers
Starting Lineup: Lebron James – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Danny Green – Anthony Davis (Questionable) – Javale McGee
Second Unit: Rajon Rondo – Avery Bradley – Alex Caruso – Jared Dudley – Dwight Howard
Leading Scorer: Davis (27.4 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Davis (9.3 RPG)
Leading Assists: James (10.7 APG)
Biggest Challenge: James
I actually think the Indiana Pacers’ frontcourt matches up pretty well with a Davis-McGee frontline. Davis is going to get his, because he always does, but I don’t think he’s the biggest challenge in this one. It’s James. I’m not sure how the Pacers are going to go at guarding him. Assuming T.J. Warren starts on him, everybody’s help defense is going to need to be locked on James. But that’s why he leads the league in assists. Caldwell-Pope and Green are shooting a good enough clip from three-point range to make it difficult to leave them open to help Warren on James. Nate McMillan will need to get creative with his stunts if he wants to slow down James at all.
Biggest Advantage: Bench
The Domantas Sabonis + bench unit has been a killer for the Pacers as of late, and that shouldn’t slow down with a depleted Lakers bench. Without Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers have little spark off their bench. Howard has been good, but he should have his hands full with Sabonis. If the Pacers want a chance to win this one, they need to dominate the bench minutes because I don’t see a scenario where they win any run with James in the game.
The X-Factor: Warren
If Warren is drawing the assignment of guarding James, then this game revolves around him. Warren’s not an elite defender, but he is better on-ball then he is off-ball, if that means anything. He will also likely have James guarding him on the other end of the court, so it will be his responsibility to wear down James with aggressive offense. I’m intrigued with the idea of Malcolm Brogdon getting some time on James as a pesky, smaller defender, but I expect Warren to take the bulk of the possessions on him.
The Lakers are one of the three best teams in the NBA when James and Davis are healthy. The biggest challenge the Pacers have is guarding James because they don’t have a go-to elite perimeter wing defender. It’s going to be mostly by committee with Warren, Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday all getting shots on him. As long as role players like Caldwell-Pope and Green continue to hit open looks when defenses collapse on James, then they are going to continue to have a lethal offense. Their bench is not as strong as the Pacers, so there is an opportunity to win those minutes.