The Indiana Pacers are struggling defensively, and most of their problems stem from first-half letdowns.
The Pacers hope to avoid another slow start Tuesday night in their first meeting of the season with the Los Angeles Lakers, who are returning home from a disappointing Grammy Awards road trip.
Indiana (34-9) enters the finale of a five-game trip still with the NBA's best record, but it's been a bit vulnerable lately. Over the last three games, the Pacers have allowed an average of 114.7 points - 24.5 more than their league- leading mark.
They've been getting run over in the first half, surrendering an average of 59.0 points on 51.5 percent shooting. The Pacers have been unable to keep up, and they've trailed by at least 10 going into halftime in each of the last three games. They had a 19-point deficit in Saturday's 109-96 loss to Denver.
"Teams are not scared of us," said Lance Stephenson, who had 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting. "They're coming out aggressive and they're playing harder. We've got to commit to the challenge and play harder than them."
Although the scuffling Lakers (16-29) have lost four in a row and 16 of 19, they could pose some more problems for Indiana.
Los Angeles has hit triple digits in each of its last eight games, averaging 107.6 points, and has been one of the league's highest-scoring first-half teams over the last few weeks with an average of 54.2 points in the past 12 games.
The Lakers shot 52.0 percent Sunday against New York but suffered a 110-103 loss to finish 2-5 on their trip.
''Can we turn it around? I think we will,'' said Pau Gasol, who has recorded four straight double-doubles, averaging 20.8 points and 13.5 rebounds. ''If we stick together, continue to work hard and get a couple of bodies back that are key, we can be a lot better and we can get much better results.''
While Kobe Bryant's return is still a week or two away, coach Mike D'Antoni originally targeted Tuesday as a possible return for Steve Nash. The 39-year-old point guard, though, didn't practice Monday and will miss his 38th straight game.
Along with Gasol, Jodie Meeks has picked up the slack offensively, averaging 21.0 points on 57.9 percent shooting in the last three games. He has hit 13 of 19 3-pointers in that span, and the Lakers are shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc in the last six games.
The Pacers have given up 31 3-pointers in the last three contests, allowing opponents to shoot 45.6 percent from long range.
All-Star Paul George is looking to bounce back from his first subpar showing in almost two weeks. He was limited to 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting and missed all four 3s against the Nuggets after averaging 29.5 points on 54.0 percent shooting - including 21 of 44 from 3-point range - in his previous six contests.
The Pacers split their two meetings with the Lakers last season and have won three straight in the series in Los Angeles after losing their first 11 matchups at Staples Center.
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