The Indiana Pacers are the second best team in the Eastern Conference and have a 26-7 record at home. The Lakers may be without Kobe Bryant and have only a half game lead for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference.
While the NBA admitted that their officials blew the call in Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta, Bryant administering round-the-clock treatment for his severely sprained ankle. Long-term injury Pau Gasol revealed he is nearing his own return, but Friday’s game in Indiana arrives too soon for the Spaniard.
Regardless of the level of Bryant’s involvement against the Pacers, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will need to increase their responsibilities on the offensive end of the floor for the Lakers on Friday night.
Seven games into the month, Howard is averaging 16 rebounds per game during the month of March. He’s grabbed 16 boards in each of the last two games, but his production dropped from 39 points to 10 points. The difference in Howard’s play came at the free throw line.
In Orlando, Howard made 25 free throws. In Atlanta, he didn’t make one. In Indiana, Howard needs to get back to the foul line (I cannot believe I just wrote that).
Nash needs to do his part, too. The Canadian has only scored 20 or more points three times this season, and all three times, Nash shot the ball at least 12 times. Encouragingly, Nash’s three 20-plus games all occurred over the past 10 games, so he seemed to be finding an offensive groove playing alongside Bryant.
Both Nash and Howard have been playing better of late, but the Lakers need them to assert themselves to an even greater extent against the Pacers. Bryant’s ankle may be taped up by the best tape-man in the business, but he definitely will not be 100 percent physically fit—if he even plays.
If Bryant plays, tune in to watch him play. If he doesn’t play, tune in to see what this team looks like without the Mamba. Regardless, there is a good reason to turn on the television at 4 p.m. PT—the Lakers will be on, and every game counts in the race for the playoffs.