Fresh off a successful 3-1 week, the challenges keep coming for the Sixers. Tonight, they'll face a team with more size than they know what to do with, literally, in the Los Angeles Lakers. The coaches had a flight home from Atlanta and an off day to figure out what to do with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, hopefully the guys can go out and execute tonight.
The easiest way to beat the Lakers is to somehow get Kobe Bryant to forget he's got two dominant big men to choose from. Sometimes, you don't have to do anything at all. Kobe will jack up 35 shots, pat himself on the back for scoring 40 points and wonder how the team managed to lose. Other times, he sees gross mismatches and feeds Bynum and Gasol. Let's just plan for the better version of Kobe tonight, because if he shows up and distributes, the Sixers could be in trouble.
Hawes, Vucevic, Allen, Brand and Battie will probably all spend some time covering Bynum, and none of them represents even a moderate challenge on the inside. If they're left to deal with him one-on-one, it's going to be a long night. Luckily, the Lakers aren't really equipped to make you pay the ultimate price for doubling. They're a terrible, terrible three-point shooting team. Troy Murphy is the only guy in their rotation shooting the long ball at an above league average rate, and putting him on the floor means Gasol or Bynum is on the bench, so you have more freedom when looking to double. The Sixers need to, again, fall back on their defensive strength, their perimeter players. Bynum is very skilled in the low post, I wouldn't wait until he puts the ball on the floor (like they did with Dwight Howard), by then it'll probably be too late. Instead, I'd send a small to double Bynum the instant he touches the ball. Get the ball out of his hands, try to close out on the Lakers' bad shooters (even bad shooters shouldn't be left wide open from deep), and take your chances.
I know it sounds simple, and maybe it wouldn't be all that difficult if it was only Bynum you had to deal with on the inside, but the Lakers also have Gasol, who is a perfect compliment to Bynum. Gasol is an excellent passer for a big man, and he can score out to the three-point line. He's a terrible assignment for Brand, and doubling him with a small isn't a great plan either, he's too good at keeping the ball high and hitting cutters. With Bynum I'd look to dig down with smalls, but not fully commit to the double, and hope Brand can push him out further on the floor. Gasol's a bad match up on the other end of the floor for EB as well, hopefully the rest he got over the weekend helped rejuvenate him.
There's one huge mismatch among the starters, and that's Jrue vs. Derek Fisher. Fisher is ancient. He has no prayer of keeping Jrue out of the paint, and the Sixers need to press that advantage all night. I'm not just talking about driving to the hoop, either, I'm talking about Jrue breaking down the defense and finding bigs when the help comes, or kicking out to Meeks for threes if the defense collapses to stop him. Don't settle for jumpers, just attack, attack, attack. This advantage carries over to the bench, as well, when rookie Andrew Goudelock is in. Lou should also capitalize. Whenever Thad is being covered by Troy Murphy, the Sixers need to just clear out one side of the floor and let Thad go to work. That's probably the best matchup they can hope for.
I've got a piece up on SB Nation Philly about where the Sixers stand, how they got there, and the outlook in the Atlantic. The tip is at 7pm tonight, game thread will land around 5. Another big game, let's make it another big win.