Records: Lakers 36-9, 76ers 29-17
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (4th), 76ers 108.5 (20th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (5th), 76ers 105.3 (4th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
76ers: Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris, Al Horford
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable), JaVale McGee (questionable); 76ers: Joel Embiid (out), Josh Richardson (out)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers beat the Nets on Thursday on the second night of a back to back. The win was their 3rd in 4 tries on their Grammy Road trip — a trip that (basically) concludes tonight in Philly.1The Lakers do play on the road on Tuesday, but it’s vs. the Clippers back at Staples. JaVale McGee sat out this game with an illness, Dwight slid right into the starting group and hit 7 of his 10 shots for 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and had 2 steals (plus a block). In other words, he didn’t miss a beat the Lakers, as they have all season, played well with their “next man up” mentality.
That story of that Nets game, though, really was LeBron. He simply played at an extremely high level and, if anything, his 27 point, 11 rebound, 10 assist triple-double undersells his impact. In a game the Lakers won by 15, LeBron was a +26 in the boxscore with his next closest teammate (Jared Dudley) posting a +12. LeBron controlled the game for, basically, every second he was on the floor and that bore out in how much more dominant the Lakers were than the Nets in those minutes.
Beyond the Nets game, this team really is just taking care of business most every night. Yes, there’s a hiccup now and then, but in these dog days before the All-Star break, the goal is to simply find a way to win and the Lakers are mostly doing that. The effort isn’t always there full bore for even 75% of the game, but this team is showing it knows how to turn it on and put teams on their heels in a way that really is impressive.
The 76ers coming in: The 76ers lost their last game vs. the Raptors, but before that had won 4 in a row. They’ve been hit with the injury bug, however, with Josh Richardson joining Joel Embiid on the injured list. Richardson will miss 2-3 weeks (at least) with a hamstring strain and Embiid remains out after hand surgery to repair an avulsion fracture after dislocating his finger.
With Embiid out, but before Richardson’s injury, the 76ers had remade themselves in Ben Simmons’ image and were having success. They’ve been playing faster, spreading the floor around Simmons, and have just been a fun, active team that throws a bunch of speed and defense at you. Losing Richardson will hurt this approach, but Furkan Korkmaz has been playing well and I expect he’ll see an even bigger uptick in his minutes with Richardson out.
This is more a long term question than a short term one, but I do wonder what’s going to happen with this team when Embiid returns. He and Simmons are not the most natural pairing and how they coexist when they share the floor is a question that needs answering. I doubt either will ever become a league average 3-point shooter and both will almost certainly be most effective offensively living in and around the paint. I do not think this is a question to answer by the trade deadline, but their ceiling this season and well beyond will be determined by how this question is resolved.
I know I’m not saying anything new with the paragraph above, but it fascinates me — and I’m sure many other NBA fans — to no end. This isn’t the 1980’s where illegal defense rules and the spacing generated artificially can allow two players of this type to thrive to their top levels. I mean, the Lakers of Kareem and Magic might even have some issues figuring out how to thrive in today’s NBA if given a time machine. So, I’m forever interested in what happens in Philly even if I’m not living and dying with them every game.
Keys to the game: With Philly’s depth compromised, my hope is that the Lakers are able to manage the time when all the team’s best players are out there and then win those moments when the benches have to carry more of a load and the Lakers will be staggering Bron and AD. I mean, if the Lakers can play their starters to a draw, but the LeBron led bench units can be a +8 and the AD led bench units can be a +4 or +5, the Lakers can win this game by double digits and it probably won’t even look that impressive. And, believe me, I’d be thrilled with that result.
The way to get there is for the Lakers to control the tempo of this game and ensure they’re on top of the gameplan. That means building a wall vs. Simmons in transition, marking Tobias Harris all over the court, and really closing out against Horford to make him put the ball on the floor when he’s spotting up around the arc. Korkmaz is another 76ers who must be tracked around the arc — he hits 39.5% of his 3’s on nearly 5 attempts a game. This truly is a KYP2Know Your Personnel game and that means a strict understanding and execution of the gameplan.
One thing I’ll be watching for early is all of the weird defensive matchups that will exist on both sides of the floor. Will Simmons guard AD? Will he guard Bradley and roam? Will he guard LeBron? Will Thybulle be on Danny Green or will they put him on Bron and try to leverage his hands and quickness to put pressure on him full court? Will Bron guard Simmons? Will AD guard him? There’s really a defensive strangeness that can come from Philly’s personnel that has the chance to create cross-matches that make it harder to matchup — especially in transition.
Lastly, Philly is a physical team even without Embiid and they will pressure you in ways that you need to be up for mentally and physically. The Lakers have not done as well in matchups like these — their wins vs. Miami being the exception. I’ll be very interested in seeing how they respond tonight and whether they can win one of these high profile games that the league is showcasing with it’s Saturday Night prime-time slotting.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on ABC.
*All stats via stats.nba.com