This frozen Friday edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent the two time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The Sixers are about as hot as they have ever been over the last two years and we really like the way the team is playing right now. We’re getting contributions from everyone of offense – including Spencer Hawes. SURPRISE. On the defensive end we are also playing very well – the Sixers are ranked 10thin opponents scoring average (96.6 ppg.) and 4th in opponents’ 3-point percentage (33.3%).
Throw in the fact that this is the 6thgame in a 7-game road swing for the LAL and the idea that a significantly inferior 76ers squad (to the current team) gave the Lakers all they could handle in both match ups last year and we have to say we like our chances of seeing an upset tonight.
That being said, this will not be an easy upset for Philadunkia’s home team to pull off. There are two reasons for that statement. The first is the obvious one — that guy named Kobe. “The Black Mamba” loves to put up big numbers in front of the “hometown crowd” that hates him so. Much like MJ, he feeds of the hatred spewing from the seats at the WFC and it drives him to put the dagger in our hearts every trip to Philly. Last season the Sixers tried Holiday, Iguodala and others on Kobe in an effort to slow him down and nothing worked – 22 ppg. vs. Sixers in 2009-10. The moment the booing starts tonight you’’ll see the fire ignite in Kobe’s eye and a determined grin slip across his face. So look for another big run from Kobe tonight.
The second reason the Sixers will need a max effort tonight in order to pull of an upset is the three headed monster that is the Lakers frontcourt of 7-footers. This season Lamar Odom has been solid as always, but with Andrew Bynum finally back, Pau Gasol has looked much better in the last couple of games. These three absolutely owned the Sixers last season. Gasol averaged 22 & 10; Bynum 13 & 8; and Odom 12 & 9 in the team’s two meetings during 2009-10. The Sixers interior defense has not improved since last year, thus we expect these three to control the glass and the Lakers to pound the ball inside and let these three go to work. If these three are allowed to run rough-shot all over the WFC tonight, it will spell disaster for the Sixers.
Still if the Sixers can slow down one of these two facets of the Lakers attack while playing up to the improved overall standards they have established for themselves over the last 10 games, an upset is an absolute possibility. We certainly like them to cover the 6-point spread Vegas has established for the home-dogs tonight.
For a little more insight into the Lakers team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Brian Kamenetzky from ESPNLA.com / Land O’Lakers to answer two questions on Los Angeles team from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this Lakers squad from an insider’s perspective
Philadunkia : With Bynum’s extended absence to start of the season, there has been a lot of talk among the national “experts” that Gasol is worn out from bangin’ with the League’s bigs every night? Do you think it’s true and if so what have you noticed in Gasol’s play that makes you believe it?
Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLA.com / Land O’Lakers : There’s no question fatigue had become an issue for Gasol as his minutes piled up. None. The symptoms showed up in a variety of ways. Gasol is one of the league’s best bigs running the floor, but was often unable to do so. He struggled defensively against lesser players. (Don’t chuckle– Gasol is an underrated defender, diminished by some because he uses length more than strength to be effective.) From a numbers standpoint, his shooting percentage was completely un-Gasolian. Over a 12 game stretch betwen November 19 and December 12, he was over 50 percent from the floor only four times. Seven times he was under 40 percent.
Remember, we’re talking about a 52 percent career shooter, someone who hadn’t been worse than 53.6 percent since joining the Lakers.
Interestingly, while Bynum’s absence hurt, Pau’s slide began with the injury to Theo Ratliff, which left Gasol without a backup at the center spot and forced him into far too many 40-plus minute nights.The lack of depth behind him hurt in a few ways. The obvious being minutes, but it also robbed Gasol of his aggressiveness defensively- he couldn’t afford to get into foul trouble- and forced him to be too measured in how he used his energy.
In the two games since Bynum returned, Gasol is 16-28, has scored 44 points, grabbed 10 boards and dished 11 assists. This despite playing an average of about 33 minutes. It’s not Bynum’s skill making this possible, but his availability. The mental lift Pau has received is invaluable.
Philadunkia : The LAL had a 4-game losing streak at the end of November into early December. However they have recently won 5 of 6 against what many would argue is a weak set of teams. So what went wrong in the 4-game L streak and is it cured or is the weaker schedule masking the same deficiencies (so to speak) and allowing the LAL to collect some Ws?
Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLA.com / Land O’Lakers : Their entire schedule, not just this stretch, has been abysmal. As of Thursday night the Lakers had the lowest strength of schedule in the NBA. Only four games against teams over .500, and they lost three of them. They haven’t played San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Orlando, Boston, Miami, New York, or Oklahoma City. The hard work, needless to say, is yet to come.
As for the losing streak itself, along with some of the underwhelming play that surrounded it even in victories, some of it was due to Bynum’s absence, and the hole it created in the frontcourt. Not only were they missing guys, but as I mentioned, the excessive minutes turned Gasol into a lesser player. But other problems were self-inflicted. The Lakers too often didn’t recognize their rotations defensively, and stopped moving the ball and themselves at the other end. The outside shooting boosting the offense to stratospheric levels over the early going went cold.
Over the last two games things look better, in large part because Bynum has been available, but also because the Lakers have made a concerted effort to work the ball through the offense, using both Kobe Bryant and Gasol as pivot points, and get a lot of hands touching the rock. They’re also doing a much better job in their off ball movement, helping create easier shots. All of that has boosted a defense that had already started to improve, even while the offense was struggling.
But they need to do these things against better teams, no question.
Two Points of Analysisfrom Brian Kamenetzky, ESPNLA.com / Land O’Lakers
1) Keep an eye on Ron Artest.
For much of the year, Artest has been, frankly, pretty bad. His decision making on the offensive end was bad, but more importantly wasn’t making much of an impact defensively. The former is something the Lakers can tolerate – they don’t need him to be scoring a lot, and absolutely don’t want him to be a high volume portion of the offense. Defensively, he has to be great, though, or he doesn’t bring enough to the table.
Matt Barnes has generally made more of an impact off the bench than Artest has in the starting lineup. But over the last few games, Artest has started finding his legs. It was particularly clear a few games ago, when he had a huge impact against Clippers uber-rookie Blake Griffin. He was thrown at a bunch of Bulls in the Chicago game, then shut down Danny Granger Wednesday night. For the Lakers to get back to where they were defensively last season, when they were among the best in the league, Artest has to be a force.
2) Shannon Brown is more than a dunker.
While the slam dunk put him on the map, Brown has evolved into a much more complete player than he’s ever been. His PER is just a shade under 20, He’s shooting 47.4 percent from the floor (44 percent from downtown), a hair under 92 percent at the line, and averages almost 11 points a night in under 19 minutes. But it’s not just the work he did on his jumper boosting his stats (though it certainly helps) but a much better understanding of how the offense is supposed to work. He’s smarter on the floor, makes better decisions with the ball, and has more confidence than he’s ever had as a Laker. The Lakers were fortunate to be able to re-sign him this summer, but it’ll cost them a lot more to do it again this year should Brown opt out of his current deal (which he almost certainly will).
Our thanks to Brian for his time and insights.