Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith, left, defends Indiana Pacers power… (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )
Despite their difficulties this season, including injured point guards and a coaching change, the Lakers (7-7) are just one game behind the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers for the best record (8-6) in the Pacific Division.
The Lakers will have an opportunity to climb in the standings on Tuesday, hosting the Indiana Pacers (6-8) at Staples Center. The Pacers have struggled this season, playing without forward Danny Granger (knee). Though relatively strong at home (4-2), Indiana's performance on the road has been lacking (2-6).
After a couple of unimpressive losses on the road, the Lakers had a strong bounce-back game against the Dallas Mavericks. A win over the vulnerable Pacers would be another step in the right direction for the slowly improving purple-and-gold.
Pau Gasol has almost always had a difficult time with forward David West. So far this season, West is averaging a team-high 16.6 points a game while shooting 46.7% from the field.
Gasol is more of a natural center, and West's combination of speed, agility and outside shot tends to be a problem for him.
If West can have a big game, the Pacers have a real chance to steal one on the road. If Gasol can slow down West and/or provide an offensive boost to match, the Lakers should be able to hold on for a win.
Indiana center Roy Hibbert has struggled this season, shooting 37.9% from the field. Defensively, he's blocked 3.1 shots per game to go with 8.6 rebounds. If Hibbert can bother Dwight Howard while finding his offensive game, the Pacers are an entirely different team.
For the Lakers, Antawn Jamison needs to continue his strong play, especially if Gasol is having a hard time against West.
The Pacers are better than their record, but this isn't the same squad without Granger. The Lakers have underperformed for too long this season to take anyone lightly.
By the end of the night, the Lakers should climb to 8-7.
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You can email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.