All things considered, the Lakers aren’t doing terrible on this 6-game roadie. They surprised Milwaukee on their road opener. Then Anthony Davis scored 55 points in a win over Washington.
However, Davis left the first quarter in their game against Cleveland. Without him, they went down to the Cavaliers. And since they were on a back-to-back, LeBron James also sat down against Toronto, where the Raptors easily won.
So they’ve evened out on the road trip at 2-2. They’re going to try to get back on track against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers have been quite inconsistent this season. You could probably attribute that to the team not being completely healthy. James Harden just came back from a foot injury (and did not do very well in his return game against the Rockets, I might add) after missing a month of action. Joel Embiid has missed 8 games this season and his recent absence was also because of a foot injury. Tyrese Maxey has been out (also a foot injury) since mid-November but he could be back before Christmas.
I feel they’re a team to watch out come playoff time if they’re healthy. So they’re going to try to endure through the regular season.
Embiid is still a dominant force. He led the league in scoring last season and he’s scoring even more in this campaign at 31.9 points per. Harden has another gaudy, stat-stuffing season with 21.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 9.7 assists. Still, these two need more reps as the season goes along.
Maxey was averaging 22.9 points and shooting .422 from three before he went down with that injury. But they still have some firepower. Tobias Harris is providing some offense with just under 17 points per game. Shake Milton has been starting for Maxey and is really having a bounceback season, averaging 11.8 points and making .391 of his threes. De’Anthony Melton (10.9 PPG) came over from Memphis and has provided some defense while starting for Harden. Speaking of defense, they also have P.J. Tucker and Matisse Thybulle doing the stopping.
The Sixers defense is 4th best in the league. Where they struggle a bit is offense (18th in the NBA). And as indicated by their 12-12 record, they’ve had quite the uneven play. They started out 0-3, beat good teams in Phoenix and Milwaukee, then lose to San Antonio and Houston.
Philly is also on a three-game skid; they lost big against the Cavs, were down big before making it respectable against Memphis, and then notably struggled in the clutch against Houston. So this funk is something the Lakers can take advantage of.
The good news is that James and Davis are probable and likely ready to go against the Sixers. So we’re going to get a star-studded game on this Friday night. I almost want to throw away the last two losses because they didn’t have a full squad then. Maybe the game would be a lot different against Cleveland if Davis didn’t leave. And they absolutely couldn’t get anything going against Toronto. I expect the Lakers to go back to the trenches with Davis; Lakers are the league leaders in points in the paint. It’s going to be a battle by the behemoths inside as Davis and Embiid try to eat everything in sight.
The Lakers would do well to watch the perimeter. Sixers are 6th in three-point percentage (.376) and guard the three well (second in three-point percentage allowed). But the Sixers aren’t the greatest at rebounding (third worst in rebound percentage and second worst in rebounds per game). Embiid is also below double digits in rebounding for the first time since his abbreviated 2016-17 rookie season. So L.A. has to crash the glass and try to run the Sixers off the gym.
As for the supporting cast, hopefully Lonnie Walker IV (2 for 12 from three, .167 in the last two games) and Austin Reaves (2 for 14, .143 in the last four games) can get their touch back from the perimeter. After two clean games, Russell Westbrook has turned the ball over 15 times in the last three games. He has to take care of the rock.
The Lakers haven’t beaten the Sixers since March 3, 2020. That was such a different time then. But for now, it’s two teams trying to shake off a slump. The Sixers will try to get back above .500 while L.A. will try to avoid a three-game skid. The records may not indicate it but this figures to be a great game with all these all-stars involved.