Kobe Bryant returns from ankle sprain, Pacers’ George Hill says amount of visiting Laker fans ‘sucks’

Unsurprisingly to some (but not me, because I saw what that dude’s ankle looked like), Kobe Bryant decided to gut it out and play on what should have been a debilitating ankle sprain against Indiana on Friday night. The attempt was admirable, if not lasting – Bryant had to be pulled after 12 scoreless minutes, and he was obviously hobbled in ways rest, compression, ice, and (probably) horse tranquilizers couldn’t help him overcome.

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The Lakers hung on to down the Pacers in what would have been an impressive showing even if Bryant were at full strength. The Pacers are a formidable defensive club and the second-best team in the East, and it would have been quite the task for the Lakers to defeat Indiana at home regardless of the context. To visiting fans that bought a ticket to the performance, even a little bit of Kobe was enough, and Bryant received kudos for his valiant try on Twitter following the contest:

All wonderfully heartwarming … to everyone but the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers, despite an tough team full of hard-workers, and clear Central division leaders, are second to last in the NBA in attendance. The team can’t draw despite not only working as one of the best teams in the NBA, but working out of one of the more unique and compelling stadiums in the NBA in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Guard George Hill, though, wasn’t really appreciative of the fact that the Lakers seemed to be working with home court advantage on Friday night, several time zones away from Los Angeles. From Mike Wells, at the Indianapolis Star:

“It sucks. It was 70 (Lakers fans) – 30 (Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that want autographs after the game. We’re out there in the community. We’re doing our job, doing what we’re supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change. I tip my hat to this team. We’ve been trouble free. Been out in the community shaking hands, we’re winning. It shouldn’t feel like an away game, especially with an important like this. Tonight, that’s what it felt like.”

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“They always say your fans are your sixth man and you feed off that energy. Energy is down and we turn the ball over and we’re hearing cheers. We’re missing shots and we’re hearing cheers. That kind of brings your head down cause you know you’re at home. It shouldn’t be like that. Now we see how it is. We have to move forward, don’t worry about. Stay focus on what’s in this locker room and don’t worry about the rest.”

“(We’re) not a team that’s in the bottom in the East. We’re one of the top three teams in the East. We’re winning the Central Division and it should show. Right now it’s not and it’s been all season long where it’s not showing and I don’t think there’s nothing else we can do as an organization and as players. Now it’s up to the community.”

Wells was helpful in relaying the fact that Hill wasn’t even addressing a question that a media member posed after the loss – he was that animated about the lack of support that the Pacer fans were showing that he made a point to perform his unsolicited rant (to Roy Hibbert) loud enough for Wells to hear. Wells asked if he could print Hill’s frustrations verbatim, and Hill complied. We’re very glad he did.

Laker fans showing up in droves to visiting games is par for the NBA’s course. Because of the immediacy of the internet and cable TV, we live in an age where sports fans can just gravitate to whoever the best team is that particular season – witness LeBron James growing up a Bulls, Cowboys, and Yankees fan despite living in northern Ohio. It’s just something that local fans just have to, ugh, put up with.

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Or profit from, even. Faced with a 3-1 series deficit in the 2009 NBA Finals, I was witness to a 50/50 split between Laker and Orlando Magic fans in the season-deciding game played at Orlando’s home arena. Magic fans had clearly taken advantage and sold their seats for great profit to the encroaching purple and gold horde.

Hill’s point speaks to a deeper concern: Indiana isn’t showing up to watch this team. It’s true that the Pacers’ Fieldhouse boasts a smaller capacity than most other NBA arenas, but just the eye test alone spies half-empty Pacer arenas most nights out. That year-long frustration mixed with the Laker noise on Friday rightfully put George Hill over the edge. The Pacers aren’t full of thugs, Hoosiers, and they’re a damn good team. Those excuses are out the window.

So is the excuse about the price of a night out. As I wrote on Thursday, I took my family of four to see a Pacer win over Minnesota, and ended up spending just under $110 on the night. That includes the price of gas (we live an hour away from the stadium), parking, tickets, beers and sodas, popcorn, and two foam fingers for the kiddies. It’s true that $110 is a chunk of change, believe me I’m aware, but as a once or twice a year expenditure it’s certainly able to be planned around.

(Although, you’d think if the Pacers wanted that news about affordability to get out, the team’s promotional arm and/or Twitter-using general manager would have possibly sent out a link or two.)

George Hill’s a good dude. The Pacers are a great team. It’s a shame that this is the news that they’re making right now.

Kobe? He just popped an Ambien and went back to sleep.

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