Records: Lakers 22-10 (3rd in West), 76ers 13-19 (8th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.6 (2nd in NBA), 76ers 104.7 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (11th in NBA), 76ers 105.4 (13th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Jrue Holliday, Jodie Meeks, Andres Nocioni, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); 76ers: Andre Iguodala and Jason Kapono (both questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: A dominating win over the Hornets to end a 3 game losing streak has quelled some of the questions about this team. By going inside, showing better focus, and executing better the Lakers have gotten back on track. Bynum’s return to starter status aided the Lakers on offense and on defense and put Odom back on the bench where he flourished in his first game as a reserve since last season. All that said, the point is to now build on that performance and find an extended groove. What’s plagued the Lakers this year has been a combination of execution and complacency so here’s hoping that a much needed win where those negatives were a no-show further helps this team understand what needs to be done as the calendar turns to the new year.
The 76ers Coming in: Tonight the Sixers play their 7th game of an 8 game trip that started nearly two weeks ago (ironically, the day after these two teams last met). So far on their trip they’ve split their 6 contests, going three and three against some very good teams. In that time they’ve defeated Orlando and Denver, and just two days ago they blasted the Phoenix Suns by 13 when they put up a season high 123 points. Even more impressive is the fact that they did it without their best player as Andre Iguodala has had to sit out the past two games while nursing a sore achilles. You would have thought that with their best player on the pine Coach Doug Collins would have opened up his rotation more, but instead he did the opposite. In the game Collins only used 8 players and the shortened rotation delivered for him with 7 of the 8 guys scoring in double digits (only Jodie Meeks was left out of the fun). The player that seemed to play especially well was rookie Evan Turner as he scored 23 points on only 12 shots for what I’m sure many would say was his best game of the season. So, just as the Lakers, this team is looking to build on a very good performance before we hit 2011.
Keys to game: Not to sound too cliché but this game will come down to who’s style wins out.
Philly will want to play pressure defense in order to force turnovers and push the pace. With Holliday and reserve guard Lou Williams, they have a PG combination that has the right ingredients to play a quick tempo against the bigger, stronger Lakers. Whether or not Iguodala plays will affect this strategy some, but not too much. If anything, having Nocioni in the line up means that Philly will try to run just as much, but with Nocioni running to the three point line rather than for layups like Iggy would.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will want to carry over their plan from New Orleans and pound the ball inside. With Bynum now starting, both he and Gasol will have major advantages inside against Hawes and Brand. The Lakers will surely look to slow the pace and look to get their inside players going with direct post ups into their sideline Triangle sets and weak side duck ins for Pau and ‘Drew when the ball reverses.
As for Kobe, look for him to do a lot of ball handling tonight (and moving forward in future games). With Bynum back and Odom as reserve, Kobe moves off the wing (where he moves in and out of the post very easily) to a guard. This means that Kobe and Fisher will be the primary initiators of offense in the two guard front of the Triangle. A by product of this will likely be more semi-transition drag screens and standard P&R sets with Kobe quarterbacking to get himself and everyone else involved. I especially expect to see this action a lot as Hawes is a slow footed big man that will have trouble containing Kobe coming around the corner while still recovering to his man (likely Bynum) that will be diving hard to the hoop.
Tonight’s game will also hinge on rebounding and who controls the glass. When these two teams met last, the Sixers stayed close for most of the contest (at least partially) because of their great work on the offensive glass. On that night Philly grabbed 16 of their own misses for an O-rebound rate of 30%. By getting second shots and forcing Lakers’ turnovers, the Sixers attempted 9 more field goals, using the extra shots to ensure that they’d be in the game until the end. So if the Lakers want to make this game easier on themselves they’ll control their glass (Bynum will help in this) and be more careful with the ball when operating in the half court.
In the end it will be easy for both teams to be a bit distracted, what with this game on New Year’s Eve and with every player likely having some sort of plans after the contest. However, both teams are also looking to carry over momentum from their last games and bring in the new year with a W under their belt. For the Lakers, this being a home game against a lesser team, I’d say that this is a game that’s pretty important. In the large scheme a loss isn’t the end of the world, but they don’t need a set back tonight. So, bring focus, smarts, and energy and this one should turn out just fine. Here’s to a win to close out 2010.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time out west on Fox Sports. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.