Conseco Fieldhouse: best for basketball

January 27, 2010, 11:55 PM

By: John Ireland

INDIANAPOLIS -- I get asked a lot about which NBA team has the best arena. Staples Center is a top five building, and so is Chicago's United Center. But the undisputed winner is Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana.

It opened ten years ago in 1999 to rave reviews, and it still holds up today. They built it in the tradition of the old high school fieldhouses that can be found all over the state. The lobby looks like an old train station, and the top level has all hand painted signs like the ones that existed in 1950's. It's sort of a combination of an arena and a museum rolled into one.

For whatever reason, Conseco seems to bring out the worst in the Lakers. Coming into Wednesday night's game with the Pacers, L.A. had lost five of their last six, and seven-of-10 overall. Last year, the Lakers blew a 15-point second-half lead and lost by one when Troy Murphy tipped in a shot at the buzzer.

But this time around was different.

Indiana decided to try and guard seven-foot Andrew Bynum with 6'9" Troy Murphy, and the Lakers took full advantage. Bynum made his first eight shots, and had 22 points and seven rebounds at halftime. The Lakers only led by three, but anybody who was in the building could tell where this was heading.

In the second half, the Pacers tried to adjust and Kobe Bryant took over. After scoring 10 first half points, Kobe scored 13 in the third quarter alone -- and the Lakers opened up a 14 point lead. A key to that was the L.A. defense, which held Indiana to just 22 points in the third. That strong defense continued in the fourth, and after giving up 56 first half points, the Lakers held the Pacers under 100, winning 118-96. The Lakers held the Pacers to 42 percent from the field and out rebounded Indiana by a staggering margin -- 62 to 42. Kobe finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Pau Gasol had a quiet 21, with 13 boards. Bynum had a season-high 27, making 12-of-14 of his shots and 12 rebounds.

After the game Bynum told me that fatigue wasn't a factor, even though the Lakers have now played five games in seven days, all on the road.

"I actually felt better tonight (in Indiana), than I did last night (in Washington DC)," Bynum said. "I'm not sure why that is, but after the White House I was tired. Tonight, I had good energy right from the start."

When I asked Phil Jackson how he was holding up, he didn't hesitate.

"I feel chipper," Jackson said dryly.

I then asked, "How can I tell?"

"I have a twinkle in my eye," he smiled.

Let's hope they both have some gas left in the tank. The Indiana win moved the Lakers to 3-2 on the road trip, with stops in Philadelphia, Boston and Memphis still to come. If the Lakers win all three, Jackson passes Pat Riley on the Lakers all-time coaching win list. If Kobe scores 72 more points, he'll pass Jerry West as the Lakers all-time scoring leader.

In other words, lots of drama still remains on the longest road trip of the year.

John Ireland is a co-host of the "Mason & Ireland Show" on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles.


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