Roy Hibbert is averaging 10.7 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 blocks per… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)
The Lakers (34-32) visit the Indiana Pacers (40-24) on Friday night. The Pacers are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.
Defensively, Indiana is a bear, holding teams to just 89.7 points a game. The Lakers score 102.4 points nightly, but can they get close to that with Kobe Bryant on the shelf with a severely sprained ankle?
Earl Clark, still starting for the injured Pau Gasol (foot), also sprained an ankle Wednesday but is expected to be available in Indiana.
The Lakers lost a close one at Staples Center to the Pacers in late November on a last-second layup from point guard George Hill.
Bryant scored 40 points in the losing effort. Hill led the Pacers with 19 points in a game the Lakers played without Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
Now's the chance for Dwight Howard to truly carry the team as Bryant misses his first game of the season.
Howard scored 17 points with eight rebounds against the Pacers, blocking four shots as the Lakers held Indiana to just 36.7% shooting. The Lakers were even worse at 31.6% -- generating offense Friday may be a struggle.
The Pacers start 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, who is significantly taller than the (barely) 6-foot-11 Howard.
Hibbert has struggled offensively this year, scoring 10.7 points on 43.5% shooting, but he's a presence inside defensively. The Pacers center is averaging 2.7 blocks a game along with eight boards.
Reserve Ian Mahinmi also had a strong game against the Lakers in November, scoring 11 points while getting to the line 10 times.
The Lakers always seem to have trouble guarding David West. In their last meeting, the Pacers forward was two assists away from a triple-double.
Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake are the likely pair to get the bulk of Bryant's minutes. Meeks is more of a scorer, although he's primarily a spot-up shooter.
Blake can help the Lakers into their offense, paired next to Steve Nash. Indiana's Lance Stephenson isn't a major scoring threat to punish Blake's lack of height.
The Lakers also will have to deal with Hill and All-Star Paul George. The Pacers are a tough, physical team that is used to grinding out difficult wins.