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(AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers have won five of six since a four-game slide, beating four opponents that have lost a combined 51 games more than they’ve won.
There’s little chance they’ll be overlooking their next sub-.500 opponent.
The Indiana Pacers stunned the Lakers at Staples Center during that surprising skid, a loss Los Angeles looks to avenge Wednesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Road defeats in Utah, Memphis and Houston weren’t completely surprising when the Lakers (18-7) dropped four straight for the first time since April 2007, but the lone home loss in that stretch was.
Indiana (11-12) had never won in 14 games at Staples Center, but snapped that drought Nov. 28 thanks to Roy Hibbert. The third-year center had 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists as the Pacers held off Los Angeles 95-92 despite a season-high 41 points from Kobe Bryant.
“We know this is a big win for us, but we can play with anybody,” Hibbert told the Pacers’ official website. “In the future, we don’t want this to be a surprise.”
Indiana’s plan was to go right at All-Star Pau Gasol, and the strategy worked perfectly. Gasol was 5 of 15 with five turnovers and five fouls, playing 45 minutes during a stretch in which he complained of being overworked while battling a minor hamstring injury.
Gasol’s minutes were high largely because of Los Angeles’ lack of interior depth, but it got deeper Tuesday. Andrew Bynum made his season debut in Washington after undergoing knee surgery over the summer, scoring seven points in 17 minutes off the bench in the Lakers’ 103-89 win.
“It was great getting to play again,” Bynum said. “It was a big moment for me because I’ve been wanting to get back. Now that I am back I just want to help my teammates out and get back in the rotation.”
Bynum has certainly thrived against the Pacers. He’s averaged 20.0 points in six meetings versus Indiana the past three seasons, his highest average against any team he’s faced at least four times.
Los Angeles’ five wins this month have come against Sacramento, New Jersey, the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington twice.
While the Pacers represent a definite step up in competition, they’ve looked bad offensively in their last two losses, averaging 78.0 points and shooting 36.4 percent at Atlanta and Chicago.
Leading scorer Danny Granger sat out Monday’s 92-73 defeat against the Bulls with a sprained left ankle, but coach Jim O’Brien wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“We got dominated in both games. There’s no way of sugar-coating that,” he told the Pacers’ official website. “It’s a learning experience for our guys.”
Granger is expected to return Wednesday, but it’s Hibbert who needs to bounce back from a pair of ugly performances. He had 12 total points as Indiana was outrebounded by 19, and wants to get back to the way he played against the Lakers last month.
“I haven’t been as aggressive as I wanted to be after the west coast trip so it’s going to be a good test,” Hibbert said. “… I know they’re looking for blood and we’re just going to have to go out there and battle. This is a big one for us.”
His coach agrees, particularly considering the Pacers haven’t swept the Lakers since the 1991-92 season.
“We’re not going to sneak up on them again after beating them in L.A.,” O’Brien said.