Game Preview: Lakers vs. 76ers - A Fresh Start

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly halfway through the season, the Los Angeles Lakers are nowhere near where we would want them to be. But, with everybody back and relatively healthy, and more wins than losses in their recent past, the signs of a turnaround are everywhere.

Casting Call

Los Angeles Lakers (15-15, 103.0 ppg, 100.2 ppg allowed)

  • Dwight Howard (17.6 ppg, 57.2% fg, 2.0 apg, 11.8 rpg)
  • Pau Gasol (12.7 ppg, 42.9% fg, 4.0 apg, 8.7 rpg)
  • Kobe Bryant (30.1 ppg, 47.8% fg, 4.9 apg, 5.3 rpg)
  • Darius Morris (5.0 ppg, 38.6% fg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 rpg)
  • Steve Nash (9.7 ppg, 53.2% fg, 7.7 apg, 2.8 rpg)

Philadelphia 76ers (14-17, 93.2 ppg, 95.7 ppg allowed)

  • Lavoy Allen (6.4 ppg, 45.9% fg, 1.1 apg, 5.2 rpg)
  • Thaddeus Young (15.2 ppg, 53.6% fg, 1.6 apg, 7.2 rpg)
  • Evan Turner(14.3 ppg, 43.7% fg, 4.3 apg, 6.6 rpg)
  • Jason Richardson (11.2 ppg, 40.6% fg, 1.6 apg, 4.3 rpg)
  • Jrue Holiday (18.6 ppg, 45.1% fg, 8.9 apg, 4.1 rpg)

Showtime

7:30 pm PST

Plot

It's a new year, and nobody will be happier about the influx of new calendars than the Los Angeles Lakers. Although 2012 may still be remembered as the dawn of another successful era in Lakerdom, that dawn itself will hardly be remembered as the picturesque scene that blesses the start of each new day. Let's face it, when it comes to happenings on the basketball court, 2012 was a year the Lakers will quickly want to forget. From beginning, when the Lakers were never a threat to the elite NBA teams en route to a quick 2nd round exit for the second straight year, to the end, in which a star powered team under-performed in every imaginable way, nothing went right in 2012 until the very end of the year.

And yet, because of 2012's (seemingly) successful summer, and because of that momentum building conclusion, in which the Lakers did win 6 of 7 games, 2013 does bring with it reason for hope. Steve Nash is back, and even if he isn't pain-free, he has most certainly been every bit the revelation in his comfortable Mike D'Antoni system that we wanted him to be. Unlike his 1.5 game cameo under Mike Brown, Nash looks as comfortable as can be running the game, throwing perfect bounce passes in the screen and roll, and (ironically) freeing up his teammates as much with his off-ball screening as with his court vision. Kobe Bryant is quite possibly having his best offensive season ever, with career highs in every measure of offensive efficiency. And though his defensive attention has been terrible for most of the season, it has improved in the past five games as well.

The bench, with Metta World Peace as a new member, is at least capable of providing some explosive scoring punch, though they could use some consistency in that regard. However, in what might be the true genius of moving MWP to the bench, the Lakers now have the three most energetic players on the team (MWP, Jodie Meeks, and Jordan Hill) coming off the pine when the Lakers need their energy the most. At the very least, the days of the bench giving up huge leads every single night seems to be gone.

As for the Lakers bigs, Pau Gasol may be disintegrating in front of our very eyes, having missed eight games with tendinitis in both knees and having developed plantar fasciitis in his foot after just three games back. But, he's also played some of his best basketball over the past few games. I don't know how much stock can be placed in his new found three point shot (5-9 in the past three games), but if he can keep up anything close to it, he will most certainly provide all the floor spacing the Lakers will ever need, and his passing remains the most awesome of his assets in this offensive system. I don't know if Pau can make it work; the injuries may limit him too much and his outside shooting is hardly the most consistent part of his game. But no player is more worth watching when he's playing well than Pau Gasol.

And Dwight Howard? He is still searching for his full capability, and whether he finds it or not will define the Lakers in 2013. If he returns to the dominance that has been the hallmark of his career to date, the Lakers will be a very good team. If he can't, or isn't willing, then 2013 will probably end a disappointment. What has happened to the Lakers so far is hardly all his fault. But, if a solution exists, his improvement will be the biggest part of it.

Tonight's opponent does not feature very much in our thoughts, because they are not all that intimidating. The Philadelphia 76ers are just 2-8 in their last ten games, and 5-10 on the road. Only the worst this Lakers team has to offer, or a truly special night from a less than mediocre Philly squad, will bring this game into question. Otherwise, it is a contest the Lakers should most certainly win, comfortably so.

Tonight does mark the return, sort of, of prodigal son Andrew Bynum. It is probably quite fitting that Bynum returns to Los Angeles not on the court, but on the sidelines. It is probably quite fitting that Andrew Bynum is out indefinitely. It is probably quite fitting that nobody is quite sure what is wrong with Bynum, just that something is quite wrong indeed. Now is as good a time as any to apologize to our Philly brethren, but we're all too busy celebrating the fact that none of this is our problem.

Then again, we've got plenty of our own problems to deal with. By the time we're looking back on 2013, we'll know whether or not they were solvable.

On This Soundtrack

- C.A.

- Check out Liberty Ballers for 76er stuff. Nobody is better at looking at the funny side of depression.

-Los Angeles Lakers Tickets

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