The Los Angeles Lakers have followed up their season-high four-game winning streak with a two-game losing skid, and the team is still winless (0-8) without Lonzo Ball in the lineup. The Lakers are looking to break both of those trends Friday when they take on the Indiana Pacers.
The Lakers’ struggles without Ball are finally starting to get backed up by statistics rather than just the eye test, which has shown since the start of the season how integral the rookie point guard already is to the style, speed and defense with which the team plays.
Of Lakers players to log more than 50 minutes this season, Ball has the best net rating, as the team is only outscored by 1.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. That is not only better than their season net rating (-4), but the team is also never worse than when Ball sits, posting a net rating of -7.7 when Ball is off the floor.
There are contextual reasons for that other than Ball’s talent, like his backups being subpar, the Lakers playing the toughest portion of their schedule without him and much of his absence coinciding with that of Brook Lopez.
But it’s also time to note that the numbers and the Lakers’ record are finally reflective of Ball’s impact. Despite his poor shooting and other rookie foibles, Ball essentially turns the Lakers from being barely better than the league-worst net rating of the Sacramento Kings (-10.1) to the 21st team in the league, slightly better than the Dallas Mavericks’ season-long -2.3 net rating.
That’s good news for the Lakers long-term, but in the short term it’s not a good omen for their chances in their first matchup of the season against Indiana given that Ball has already been ruled out in a third-straight game. The Pacers have blown the (admittedly meager) preseason expectations for themselves out of the water, posting the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference and the third-best net rating.
After jettisoning Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pacers were roundly criticized for the seemingly lackluster haul of Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo, but both players have broken out to different degrees in their first post-Thunder season.
Oladipo, against all odds, is garnering significant All-Star consideration and will very likely make the game while flirting with a top-10 in the league scoring average (his 24.3 points per game rank 12th in the league).
Sabonis hasn’t quite evolved to that level, but the sophomore forward ranks in the top 10 in scoring amongst second-year players (12.3) and second in rebounds in that group (8.3) while ably filling in for or playing with fellow young big man Myles Turner (who is currently out with an elbow ligament sprain).
The Pacers haven’t missed a beat in spite of that injury, and while they’ll be playing on the second end of a back-to-back after losing 100-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night, the Lakers can’t assume that any team will fall prey to schedule-related difficulties.
In addition to not having Ball, the Lakers will be without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is nursing an Achilles tendon strain. Additionally, Ingram who was deemed a game-time decision, was ruled out due to a nagging sprained ankle.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-29) Vs. Indiana Pacers (24-21)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 19, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Josh Hart
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Alex Caruso
Projected Pacers Starting Lineup:
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Domantas Sabonis
Key Reserves: Cory Joseph, Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, TJ Leaf
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