In the midst of NFL Wild Card Weekend, the Lakers have some business to take care of in their quest to get to .500.
The 19-23 Lakers just lost a double overtime contest against the Mavericks, which was proven to be badly officiated. Nevertheless, the Lakers should’ve never been put in that position. They were down by 19 points early in the game and the game was a mountain climb the rest of the way.
That’s what happened against the Philadelphia 76ers last month. Except it was a more chaotic comeback. Lakers were down by 16 with under five minutes left. And then they were down 9 points with 30 seconds left. A wacky set of events led to the Lakers forcing overtime (heck, they even had a chance to win it in regulation). But fatigue set in and the Sixers dominated in overtime.
At the time, the Sixers were 12-12 going into their first match-up against the Lakers. Philly has gone 14-4 since (and, really, their losses were upsets, for lack of a better term). They are fourth in a pretty crowded Eastern Conference (though Boston is starting to widen the lead in the East).
Philly has continued to play very good defense as they’ve held steady at 4th in defensive rating. And they’re now in the Top 10 in offensive rating. It doesn’t feel like the Sixers don’t get as much respect as the Celtics, Bucks, or even the Cavs but make no mistake about it; this is a title contender.
Joel Embiid definitely feels he doesn’t get enough respect. He doesn’t get mentioned for the MVP award (yes, I know it’s January) like Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, or Jayson Tatum. But he has a season worthy of one at 33.4 points (second in the league behind Luka), 9.8 boards, 4.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks. Hell, he put in 20 of his 38 points in the first quarter against the Lakers last month.
James Harden seems to have regained much of his MVP form. No, he’s not putting up 36 a game but 22.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 11.1 assists per seems excellent. He would lead the league in assists if he was qualified (but he will soon as the league is saying he hasn’t played enough games). Tyrese Maxey is back (he didn’t play in the first game against the Lakers) and at 21.0 points per, he’s picked up where he left off.
The bad news for the Sixers is that they had just played against the Jazz on Saturday in what has to be a draining overtime game against the Utah Jazz. There’s no injury report yet as of this writing although Tobias Harris didn’t suit up in Utah.
Well, the Lakers had Anthony Davis in the first game and he was huge in that comeback against the Sixers. He put in 21 of his 31 points in that fourth quarter. Davis is not available this time around and neither are Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV. LeBron James is listed as probable and Patrick Beverley is questionable with an illness.
The Lakers have to make it chaotic for the Sixers. The Sixers play a more structured halfcourt game and boast possibly the best two-man game in Embiid and Harden. L.A. doubled them up in fast break points previously, 32-16. It’ll be tough to stop Embiid, especially with no Anthony Davis. Rebounding is somehow still a weakness for the Sixers (still third worst in rebounding per game and third worst in rebounding percentage) so the Lakers have to go after the boards.
I do admire the Lakers’ moxie as of late but to get into the play-in games, they’ll need better results. They’re currently on a two-game losing skid and they can’t keep depending on everyone else losing. At some point, they’re going to have to win more games than they lose. And they’ve showed that they can stay with the best teams in the league. Hopefully, they can score another upset against Philadelphia.
And ideally, it’s best to somehow blow the Sixers out early because the Lakers have another game on Monday.