D’Angelo Russell went down with knee and calf injuries in the first two minutes, and Nick Young hobbled off the court with a hyperextended knee in the second quarter, but that hardly slowed the Lakers, who beat Indiana to snap a five-game losing streak.
Here are five things we learned from their 108-96 win over the Pacers on Friday night:
1. Brandon Ingram, the 19-year-old rookie forward who was the second overall pick in last year’s draft, is emerging as the Lakers’ best player. After averaging 7.3 points and shooting 34.7% from the field in his first 38 games, he’s averaging 12.7 points and shooting 47.5% in his last nine games.
Ingram scored 15 points and made three of six three-pointers Friday night, but his biggest impact may have come on defense, where he held Pacers star Paul George to 21 points, including four in the third quarter, when the Lakers took control of the game. George dropped 30 points on the Lakers on Nov. 1.
“He was one of the best players on the floor for either team,” Coach Luke Walton said. “His activity level was great. The way he was pushing the ball, getting deflections. If he continues to work the way he is, he’ll be the type of guy who’s filling stat sheets and making game-winning plays all over the court.”
Ingram has impressed the Lakers with his work ethic, often visiting the team’s practice facility for late-night shooting sessions, and his efforts obviously are paying off.
“Something has clicked for Brandon,” Walton said. “He wants to be great, and there’s been a change of his mindset. I don’t know if somebody has got to him or he’s figured out stuff on his own, but it’s really impressive for someone his age living in L.A., with some new money, to that quickly turn basketball into the priority he has and attack practice every day the way he is.”
That devotion to his craft, combined with his long, lean, athletic body and obvious talents, have accelerated Ingram’s learning curve.
“This is a grown man’s league, and it takes young players a long time to figure out the physicality of it, to figure out the speed of the game,” Walton said. “When I first got to the NBA, I remember watching players run up and down the court and thinking these were the fastest, strongest people I’ve ever seen in my life.
“That’s what it’s like coming out as a college kid. The game looks like it’s slowing down for him. To me, it normally takes rookies and young kids much longer than half a season for that to happen. So I think he’s advancing much faster than most 19-year-olds or rookies in general would be.”
2. Lou Williams has the right mentality for a scorer: Don’t think, shoot. After pouring in a team-high 27 points and making four of eight three-pointers Friday night, Williams, a reserve guard who leads the team with a scoring average of 18.0 points, was asked how he focused his attack against the Pacers.
Lakers center Tarik Black goes after a loose ball next to Pacers guard Jeff Teague (44) during the first half.(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
Pacers forward Thaddeus Young, right, takes the ball away as Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell falls to the court because of a leg injury.(Alex Gallardo / AP)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram passes the ball away from pressure by Pacers center Myles Turner, left, and guard Glenn Robinson during the first half.(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
Pacers guard Glenn Robinson (40) looks to pass the ball away from Lakers forward Brandon Ingram during the first half.(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson steals the ball from Pacers guard Aaron Brooks, during the second half.(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
Pacers guard Monta Ellis pulls down a rebound against Lakers center Timofey Mozgov during the second half.(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
“I don’t think about that stuff, I just hoop,” he said. “Whatever happens at that split moment, that’s what I’m gonna do. I don’t even see the person in front of me; it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing I think about is if a team is gonna push me right, I take what’s given, and sometimes I jab left. Other than that, I don’t know, it’s not that difficult for me.”
3. Julius Randle showed signs of emerging from a deep five-game funk in which he scored 41 points — 22 of them against San Antonio on Jan. 12 — an 8.2 average and shot 34.9% from the field (15 of 43). In eight games before that, he had averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and shot 51% from the field.
Randle scored 16 points Friday night, 12 of them — and five rebounds — coming in the first half, when he helped keep the Lakers within two points, 53-51, of the Pacers at the break.
At one point late in the second quarter, Randle battled two Pacers underneath the basket for an offensive rebound, banked in a follow shot while being fouled and was so fired up he slapped his flexing biceps to the crowd.
4. The Lakers decided to give Peace a chance on Inauguration Day. With Russell and Young injured in the first half, Metta World Peace, who has played only 79 minutes this season, entered the game in the final minute of the first and second halves, receiving rousing ovations each time.
Peace may be 37 and in the twilight of his career, but he clearly remains one of the Lakers’ most popular players.
5. Timofey Mozgov needs to work on his dunking. The Lakers center missed an alley-oop slam in the third quarter, crashing down so hard on the rim that the backboard was still shaking on the Lakers’ next possession. Early in the fourth quarter, Mozgov missed a one-handed dunk attempt.