Preview and Chat: The Philadelphia 76ers

Phillip Barnett —  February 6, 2012

Records: Lakers 14-10 (7th in West), 76ers 17-7 (3rd in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (15th in NBA), 76ers 106.3 (7th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.9 (10th in NBA), 76ers 95.0 (1st in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Jazz: Elton Brand (questionable)

The Lakers Coming In: The Lakers are coming off a tough loss in Utah which saw the Lakers top three — Kobe-Pau-Bynum — score on the plus side of 20 points, but they shot 38.7 percent as a team and collapsed in the fourth quarter which included a wild 16-1 run by Jazz which was sparked by Earl Watson. During the said run, Watson bulldozed Pau Gasol picked Gasol’s pocket, which sent coach Mike Brown into a frenzy, which eventually got him ejected from the game. Because of his antics, Brown has been fined $25,000 and suspended from tonight’s game “[…] for making contact with an official and not leaving the court in a timely manner […].” John Kuester will serve as Brown’s replacement tonight. As the Lakers try to bounce back on this trip, Kobe will be chasing a bit of history as he is only 23 points away from passing Shaq (28,596) for 5th all time on the scoring list. This is notable, of obvious reasons, but mostly because he has a shot at the milestone in his hometown. Kobe played his high school ball in Philly and can return home to show how far he’s come as a ball player (and if he doesn’t get the 24 tonight, he’ll have a opportunity to reach 5th all time in the Boston Garden).

The 76ers Coming In: The 76ers shocked many as they jumped out to a fast start this season, leaving many to wonder whether or not they could keep their high level of play. They not only have kept up that play, but are now leading the Atlantic Division and have won five of their last six games, including an 11-point win in Atlanta on Saturday, which was their second game of a back to back. In that game, six guys recorded double-figure points for Philly, including five off the bench. That kind of balanced scoring has been a theme for this team as they have six guys who average 10 or more points, and are led by Lou Williams at 15 per game. What has been most impressive, however, is their defensive prowess. They have a league leading defensive efficiency and only give up 86.5 points per game and a league leading 10.25 average margin of victory. They’re getting stops, turning those stops into points, and repeating.

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Keys to the Game: Tonight is definitely one of those nights where the ball needs to be pounded inside early and often. Pau has averaged 21 and 9 over the course of his career against Philadelphia 76ers teams, and last season was no different. Pau shot 58 percent from the field against Philly last season and averaged 19 and 10. While the 76ers interior defense has improved this season, it hasn’t improved so significantly that Pau can’t be effective again in the Wells Fargo Center. Also, Andrew Bynum should be much more effective this season against Philly. In the two meetings last year, ‘Drew recorded three points and four rebounds, and eight points and 15 rebounds, respectively. Coming into tonight’s game, Bynum is averaging 21 and 10 over the Lakers last four games, and should give Spencer Hawes problems, especially since this is only his second game back from injury.

On the perimeter, Kobe might find it tough to score with Andre Iguodala in his grill for most of the night. Last season, Iguodala held Kobe to nine points on three-for-11 shooting. In the two teams’ other meeting with Iguodala hurt, Kobe dropped 33 points. Facilitator Kobe might have to show his face tonight to get his big guys involved and eventually free up some space for him as wings will eventually have to start to dig down and double team bigs if Pau and ‘Drew have their way.

On the defensive end, the Lakers are going to have to work hard to keep up with the constant movement of Doug Collins offense and close out on shooters. This 76ers team likes to get out and run, and when in half court sets, they can shoot the ball. They’re hitting from range at a 38.5 clip, which is fifth best in the NBA. They move the ball extremely well and take advantage of defensive lapses every opportunity they get. Point guard Jrue Holiday has been great at cutting through the teeth of the defense and finding open shooters, and if Elton Brand does suit up tonight, he’ll be a problem for the Lakers bigs on that end of the floor.

Overall, though, it’ll come down to the little things like rebounding, free throws and grabbing loose balls. This is how good teams win on the road, and it’s what the Lakers weren’t able to do down the stretch in Utah. Coming off a day’s rest should help in these categories as they require more effort than skill, so it’ll be interesting if the old Lakers legs have it in them to take one from the youngsters in Philly.

Phillip Barnett