Fresh off Saturday's 98-87 thumping of the Hawks in Atlanta, a brief road interlude on what would otherwise be a 10 game homestand, the Sixers return home to take on the Lakers for the final three games in the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center before playing 7 of their next 8 on the road.
The next three games will all be against quality opponents with the Lakers, Spurs, and Clippers coming into Philly, even if the Lakers are somewhat struggling at the time. The Lakers have gone 4-5 over their last 9 games.
That being said, the Lakers present some tough matchups for the Sixers inside, and this will be one of the games playing Thad at the 4 will be challenging. As much as any time in recent memory, this game is less about stopping Kobe Bryant and more about stopping Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum down low.
Bynum is having by far the best season of his career, averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game, good for a 22.2 Player Efficiency Rating. He's playing the most minutes of his career (34.5 minutes per game) and has been a force on the defensive glass, with his 27.6% defensive rebounding rate being the best of his career.
Alongside of him has been Pau Gasol, who has seen his usage rate drop to 20.8%, the second lowest of his career. While his production has slightly dropped, he's a very good complement to Bynum and Kobe, with enough outside shooting and passing ability to give Bynum room to operate down low, but good enough post scoring to take advantages of mismatches. For various reasons, none of Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young, or Lavoy Allen present very good matchups when trying to guard Gasol.
Furthermore, Brand may struggle on the offensive end. The Lakers length has frequently caused Brand problems in the past. Brand averaged 8 points on 9 field goal attempts in the two games against the Lakers last year and 10.5 points on 12.5 field goal attempts per game the previous year.
Where the Lakers are vulnerable has been the rest of their point guard play and depth. The Lakers start two players (Derek Fisher and
Ron Artest Metta World Peace) who give them virtually nothing on the offensive end. Fisher has a 9.3 PER so far this year and World Peace a 6.7 PER. Mike Brown has apparently settled on Peace as the starter, even though Matt Barnes has largely outplayed him. In the front court, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts are the primary big men, and Murphy may also give Thad and Elton problems with his perimeter shooting.
Offensively, the Sixers are going to need Jrue Holiday to get into the paint, both as a scorer and as a facilitator, and they need Elton to find a way to be a contributor against this big front line.
The Lakers are actually a very good team at defending the initial shot (3rd in the league in opponents eFG%), but are last in the league at forcing turnovers (Sixers best in the league at taking care of the ball) and only average on the defensive glass as, despite two monster big men the Lakers are overall an average defensive rebounding team due to their lack of quality depth in the front court. Of course, the Sixers being the worst offensive rebounding team in the league doesn't make me particularly confident they will.
Defensively, the Sixers should play man to man on Kobe and look to double the Los Angeles big men. The Lakers are 25th in the league in three pointers made and 28th in three point percentage despite the attention their big men receive, and the Sixers have given up the second fewest three's in the league this year. Outside of Troy Murphy, they don't have much in the way of reliable three point shooting. If the Sixers rotations are crisp, they should be able to keep this team in check, despite the potency of their top three scorers.
The Sixers may also need a big game from Evan Turner. The Sixers will want to use Iguodala on Kobe, which would leave Meeks on World Peace. Despite The Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest's overall ineffectiveness this year, if the Sixers blatantly encourage him to take Meeks and/or Jrue in the post, that's a matchup he may still be able to take advantage of. If Meeks isn't on fire to start the game, hopefully Doug goes to Evan early in the game for defensive purposes. Playing Lou and Jodie together with Kobe and Peace on the perimeter shouldn't happen for this reason, although I would argue it should virtually never happen anyway.
That being said, World Peace has averaged 3.25 points per game in his 4 starts (27+ minutes per game), so he may not be able to take advantage of it anyway.
*UPDATE* Elton Brand will not play tonight. Lavoy Allen will make his second consecutive start.