Bryant and the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers close out their three-game homestand Tuesday night when they try to win their 11th straight at Staples Center against the Pacers.
Bryant, among the league leaders with 27.5 points per game, is averaging 21.3 on 42.7 percent shooting in four contests since a sprained left ankle sidelined him Feb. 6-18. Bryant missed 14 of 17 shots in Sunday’s 95-89 victory over Denver, scoring 14 points while handing out a season-high 12 assists.
“God knows I love the triangle (offense), but I kind of had to get into a playoff mode a little bit today - just put the ball in my hands and let me make the decisions,” he said. “But I missed a lot of shots.”
That wasn’t the case for Bryant in Los Angeles’ 118-96 victory in Indianapolis on Jan. 27. Playing in front of a Conseco Fieldhouse crowd that showered him with chants of “M-V-P,” Bryant hit 10 of 15 from the field and finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“It just means the home team is struggling and there’s a lot of Lakers fans in the building,” he said.
There will be plenty of Lakers fans in the house Tuesday when Los Angeles (45-15) tries to improve upon its West-leading 28-5 home record with its 11th consecutive victory at Staples Center against Indiana (20-39).
Including three losses in the 2000 NBA finals, the Pacers are 0-13 all-time at Staples Center since it opened in 1999.
In the teams’ last meeting in Los Angeles, Bryant scored 36, including a game-winning fadeaway jumper with three seconds left that lifted Los Angeles to a 121-119 victory Jan. 9, 2009. Bryant is averaging 28.1 points, 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds in Los Angeles’ last 10 home games against the Pacers.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum(notes), who had 20 points in last season’s matchup at Staples Center and 27 with 12 boards in the Jan. 27 victory at Indiana, could have another big game if Pacers coach Jim O’Brien opts for a small starting lineup. With Troy Murphy(notes) guarding the 285-pound Bynum and 6-foot-9 Danny Granger(notes) matched up with Pau Gasol(notes) in this season’s first meeting, Los Angeles grabbed a season-high 62 rebounds to Indiana’s 42.
“I don’t know whether Jim was baiting us or not, but he started Murphy on him (Bynum),” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “Drew is a plus-7-footer with probably 30 pounds, 40 pounds on him at least. It’s almost an impossible feat for them to cover Drew.”
The Pacers have been outrebounded by an average of 8.1 while losing seven of nine.
With little hope of making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, Indiana opens a four-game western swing looking to build off Saturday’s 100-90 victory over Chicago.
“It feels real good to get a win,” Granger said after his 30-point outing helped the Pacers snap a three-game slide. “We’ve been struggling a little bit lately and you just have to stay positive. The season is closing out and we have to keep pushing ahead.”
Granger had 14 points - nine below his average - in the January loss to the Lakers.
Indiana, which has lost five of six on the road, posted its last victory in Los Angeles on Feb. 14, 1999 - a 101-99 victory at The Great Western Forum.