I felt much more confident about the Pacers going into their showdown with the Lakers at the Staple Center after their solid loss (if there is such a thing) against the Spurs several days ago. The offense was still rocky but it showed signs on improving, as did players such as Roy Hibbert and DJ Augustin (who both sucked tonight, unfortunately).
I was less optimistic when I found out that Kobe would be playing despite battling the flu. Kobe always has good games when he is sick because he is dying to have a monumental "flu game" like Michael Jordan, and I was afraid the Pacers — who always tend to give up huge numbers to superstars — would be a victim.
In the end, the Pacers' offense was still fugly and Kobe took off for 40 points (he had a triple-double, actually, with 10 rebounds and 10 turnovers!), but it didn't matter because George Hill hit a running right-handed scoop shot high off the glass over the outstretched hands of Dwight Howard, with the ball sinking through the hoop with 0.01 seconds left — effectively a buzzer beater. Game over, 79-77. Pacers win.
I'll admit, the Pacers were a little lucky tonight. Pau Gasol played with tendinitis, but he's usually David West's bitch anyway, so that wasn't huge, though it did count. Kobe, of course, was sick, and both Steves (Nash and Blake) remain out with injuries. And of course, the Lakers appear to be still trying to find themselves under new coach Mike D'Antoni, so it's not like the Pacers beat a full-strength team clicking on all cylinders. Dwight also missed a couple of big free throws along with Metta World Peace in crunch time, so that certainly helped too.
For the game, Hill led the Pacers with 19 points, including the team's final 4, to go with his 5 rebounds and 5 assists. David West was huge, as expected, putting up 16 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, and I don't understand why the Pacers don't feed him the ball more often (like on every possession). Paul George had 12 points and 9 rebounds and Hibbert had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks before fouling out in just 18 minutes, giving Ian Mahinmi a chance to play his best game of the season with 11 points in 30 minutes.
So the Pacers are off to a 1-0 start on their 4-game road trip to continues with games against the Kings and Warriors before heading back to the East to face the Bulls. All three are definitely winnable but it's never clear which Pacers team might show up for the night.
My personal expectations for the Pacers this season was for them to be a team that easily takes care of lottery teams and occasionally stuns the elite teams with grind-put performances like this one. So far, they've struggled against even the lottery teams, so my hope is that they can build on this victory and continue heading in the right direction.