5.5 point underdogs at home, and that line seems generous. The Sixers will take on the defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers, at the WFC tonight at 7pm. The Sixers have won 7 of their past 9, and for the most part played inspired basketball over that stretch. It's probably going to take more than inspired basketball to take down the champs, though.
The Lakers are unbelievably big team, and an unbelievably deep team. If I sat here and listed their strengths on both ends of the floor, this would be a pretty long post. Instead of looking at their strengths and what the Sixers need to stop, let's instead look at what the Sixers should encourage from the Lakers. Meaning, if you can get them to do this, they won't be as effective.
- Encourage Ron Artest to shoot - Artest is shooting 16% on jumpers from 16-23 feet and 32.8% from three. Any time you get him to take a jumper, that's a positive defensive possession. How do you do this? Unleash Andre Iguodala. Whenever Gasol touches the ball, Iguodala should be sprinting over to double him. Leave Artest. Whenever Kobe dribbles to the corner, send Iguodala to double and leave Artest. Give Ron Ron a written invitation to shoot. Artest isn't terrible, but he is the worst option for the Lakers in the half court.
- Turn Derek Fisher Into a Driver - Jrue needs to be up in Fisher's face, making him work to get the ball up the floor. Then Meeks and Iguodala need to cut off the passing angles to the wing. Overplay that pass, making it difficult to get into the triangle. Brand needs to be on Gasol's hip when he flashes to the elbow to receive the entry pass. Use your long arms to poke a couple away, and use your girth to push Gasol out further on the floor than he's used to if/when he does receive the pass. Anything you can do to throw off their halfcourt game is a positive. Definitely fight over any Gasol screen for Fisher, make him turn the corner and go to the hoop. Jrue has a decent chance of chasing him down from behind for the block anyway. That's preferable to losing Gasol on the roll or leaving Fisher open for a three.
- Matt Barnes, see Ron Artest above
On the offensive end, make the Lakers work. If this was a playoff game, I'd expect Kobe to switch onto Jrue and leave Fisher the easier cover of Meeks. I seriously doubt Phil Jackson will do that tonight. Fisher cannot guard Jrue. He needs to use his dribble to get into the lane, get to the line, and kick out for open jumpers if/when the defense collapses. Jodie should have Kobe on the windshield wipers all game long, just keep running him off screens. When the Lakers go big, I'd go small. Meaning, if they have Bynum and Gasol on the floor, I'd put Brand at the five and Thad at the four. It'll be a disgusting mismatch on defense, but it'll also force Gasol to cover Thad out on the floor, which he cannot do. Maybe you put a couple fouls on Gasol.
I'm hoping for the best, but not expecting too much. One thing is for sure, if the Sixers don't come out with maximum effort, and sustain it, the Lakers will blow their doors off. You can't have a slow start against this type of opponent and think you're going to climb back for the win. It just doesn't happen.
Prediction: Sixers 99, Lakers 98 (I'm still going with the one-possession win prediction until it finally happens
The tip is at 7pm, game thread will be up at 5:30. See you then.