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Lakers 102, 76ers 98: New Year's Resolution - More Free Tacos

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Based on a precedent established in our preview, we might have been expecting tonight's contest to be as enjoyable as a root canal.  The Lakers already have a bit of a history of unwatchable contests against the Philadelphia 76ers, and when you combine that with factors such as the Laker players all thinking about what party they would hit after the game, and a crowd of people doing the same thing, there was little reason to believe we would be rewarded for our devotion to the boys in purple and gold with anything but a win that might cause some teeth gnashing.

Well, teeth gnashing there was, but all other aspects of tonight's 102-98 victory were certainly more positive than I expected.  Whereas previous versions of this match-up have induced sleep and boredom, I found tonight's game to be downright entertaining.  Kobe Bryant powered up the Wayback Machine to throw down a couple of very decent dunks and scored 33 points on a pedestrian 24 shots.  Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and even Ron Artest all looked strong offensively, shooting a combined 21-32 between them.  And the crowd?!?  Where the hell did that come from?  I don't know if it's just me, or if I had the volume on my TV a few notches higher than usual, or if the patrons were a bit drunker than usual, or if all the celebrities were all at Carson Daly's New Years Bash, but I found the audience for tonight's game to be rather awesome.  They reached solid volume when cheering, and were clearly into the game down the stretch.

Despite all those factors, tonight's victory was not easy.  The Lakers spent most of the game keeping the 76ers at arm's length, building a lead that fluctuated between 8-14 points for most of the night, but in the 4th quarter, that pesky turnover bug popped up (5 of their 14 turnovers occurred in the 4th) and Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday both got hot and started stroking both easy and contested outside shots.  I won't say the game was never in doubt, especially because the Lakers haven't exactly developed a reputation for being very reliable down the stretch of close ball games, but in the end, Kobe played the closer role well, and the Lakers escaped with a four point victory in a game in which they never actually trailed.  This has to be the most competitive and least impressive wire-to-wire victory ever, right?

In the old "keys to the game" department, the Lakers won this one with pretty ball movement early, and dominant rebounding throughout.  They ended up with 10 more boards than the 76ers, taking a higher percentage of caroms on both sides of the court.  Only turnovers (late) and three point shooting (throughout) allowed this game to be close.  Oh, and Derek Fisher of course

Lamar Odom continued his run of fine form, with 18 points on 8-13 shooting.  That's his second straight great performance off the bench.  I admit I was a little worried that Lamar's aggressiveness, and therefore his scoring, would taper off when he returned to the pine, but so far that has not been the case.  An aggressive Lamar makes the Lakers extremely formidable ... as long as those other stars don't suck, that is.  Tonight, those other guys played pretty well too, and despite the fact that hardly anybody else on the team played well, that was enough to eke out the victory.  It's not the perfect way to end the year, but I don't think we can have too many complaints.  After all, who doesn't like ringing in the new year with tacos?

Bonus Note:  I'd like to give a shout out to the producers, refs, Staples Center, whoever, because this game was on pace to finish in record time so that folks could get to their parties in a timely manner.  If not for that pesky edict that all close basketball games must involve 8 million timeouts, and that the last two minutes of game time must take 30 minutes in real life, this contest could have been over by 9:30ish, and was easily on pace for the fastest basketball game ever until Phil Jackson and Doug Collins ruined it all with their silly "strategy".  Even though it didn't work out the way you planned it, mysterious people who decided this game should end quickly, your efforts did not go unnoticed.












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