Don't call it a comeback, because Kobe Bryant never really went anywhere. The future Hall of Fame guard severely sprained his ankle on Wednesday in the final seconds of a game against the Hawks, but after being labelled 'out indefinitely on that night, he joined the team for shootaround on Friday and now he's a game-time decision to play against the Pacers. How's that for drama and intrigue?
The Lakers have won seven of their last 10 games and played their way back into the Western Conference playoff race after a disastrous start to the season, but their work is far from done. For all the talk, they are just a half-game up on the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed. This may be the perfect time to create some separation, as the upcoming schedule for L.A. -- at Pacers, vs. Kings, at Suns, vs. Wizards, at Warriors -- is much softer than Utah's slate -- vs. Grizzlies, vs. Knicks, at Rockets, at Spurs, at Mavericks.
It won't be easy for the Lakers to knock off Indiana, though -- even if Kobe is available. The Pacers have also won seven of their last 10 games, and now they are the sole owners of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Danny Granger struggled in his abbreviated return after missing the first half of the season with knee problems, and he's back on the shelf for now, but the Pacers have improved their offense considerably in the past few weeks.
Indiana's offense the past twenty games has been much better than I expected, a 107 per 100 poss mark, good for 7th best.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 14, 2013
Roy Hibbert and Paul George have helped Indy to construct the top defensive unit in the NBA -- the Pacers allow teams to score a scant 95.7 points per 100 possessions -- so if the offense (still ranked 20th) ever catches up it will spell trouble for opposing squads.
If Kobe is unable to go, the Lakers may have to lean heavily on Steve Nash to create good offense, as explained by the crew over at Silver Screen and Roll:
Sans Kobe, the impetus is now almost entirely on Steve Nash to be the team's primary playmaker and you can expect a pick-and-roll between him and Dwight Howard to become the norm in the Lakers' offense, if it wasn't already. Considering the alternatives -- straight-up Howard post-ups, which should continue mind you so long as Dwight continues to run his rear off to claim deep post position all the time; Metta World Peace isolations or post-ups, something we need less of for the sake of our collective sanity; and just flipping the ball around on the perimeter -- this is undoubtedly the best option, as Dwight has been fantastic in clearing out space for Nash to operate and it's allowed Nash, bereft of the burst that has allowed him to escape the hard hedges and blitzes he's having trouble with now, to be rather effective.
Tip is set for 7 p.m. ET at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the game will be broadcast on TWC Sportsnet, FOX Sports Indiana and NBA League Pass. The Pacers are nine-point favorites at home, according to Odds Shark, and the over/under is at 190 points.