Indiana Pacers vs Los Angeles Lakers
11:30am, T-Mobile Arena
The tournament final tips off in Vegas on Sunday, and we’re faced with an unexpected matchup between two teams that were pegged to be on the fringe of playoff contention all year.
In the span of a fortnight, Tyrese Haliburton has emerged as the star he was once touted to be, guiding the Pacers to one of the team’s most famous wins on Friday against Giannis, Dame Lillard, and what many believed to be a more talented Bucks team.
The Lakers have also proven their doubters wrong, blowing out a well-rounded Pelicans side with a vintage 30-point performance from LeBron, and another double-double from Anthony Davis.
The fact both sides have squared off only four times over the last two years makes this a difficult matchup to get a feel for, not to mention the ‘young vs old’ narrative with Haliburton looking to prove the Pacers are a legitimate title contender, and LeBron showing he’s still got it in his 21st season.
Indiana’s biggest strength this year has been their pace. The Pacers run the court better than anyone, punishing teams that choose to play sloppy defence by pushing the ball quickly down court to score points over the top.
Like the Bucks, the Lakers rank in the top half of the league in pace, so they should be able to hang with Indiana providing LeBron and AD didn’t spend too much petrol in the Semi-Final win on Friday.
Unlike Milwaukee though, what is also working in the Lakers’ favour is their defence.
Darvin Ham’s side has been one of the toughest to score against this year, particularly from two-point range where they’ve held opponents to below 45% over their last 10 games.
On the other side, the Pacers have been one of the easiest teams to score against, as we saw on Friday when the Bucks erased a half-time deficit to make things interesting in the third quarter.
Lastly, I also wonder who will guard Davis in this matchup.
If the Lakers were to make it this far, they needed the very best from AD, which they’ve received with two stellar performances against the Suns and Pelicans.
We saw Aaron NeSmith get into foul trouble late in the game against Milwaukee, and if the Lakers can shut down Haliburton like they did Brandon Ingram, all signs point toward an LA win.
Tip: Back the Lakers to Cover the Line