7:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Lakers -3.5, Over/Under: 222
From the City of Angels to the City of Brotherly Love, a potential NBA Finals preview is on tap tonight as the reigning Champions, Los Angeles Lakers, battle the Philadelphia 76ers from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Winners of three straights contests, it’s hard to fathom, but the Lakers (14-4, 1st in Western Conference) may very well be a stronger side than they were last season, in which they added another Larry O’Brien trophy to the franchise’s considerable war chest, their seventeenth overall matching the Boston Celtics for most all-time. Of course, last season saw (General Manager) Rob Pelinka completely overhaul the roster to better build a championship contender around four-time MVP, LeBron James (25.2 PTS, 49.7% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 7.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 24.9 PER), initiating a mega-deal to acquire the services of (All-NBA Forward) Anthony Davis (21.8 PTS, 58.3% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 8.9 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.9 BLK, 25.6 PER). As you can imagine after winning a championship, there were no seismic changes that needed to be made, but Los Angeles still managed to upgrade the rotation with the early returns proving overwhelmingly positive. First and foremost, the club retained the services of both James and Davis for the foreseeable future, with the former committing what should be the remainder of his illustrious career on a two-year/$85.6 million extension, while the latter put pen to paper on a five-year/$189.9 max deal. Pelinka then proceeded to pull some tricks out of his hat, acquiring the likes of (Point Guard) Dennis Schroder (13.6 PTS, 41.6 % FG, 29.5% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 11.2 PER) and (Power Forward) Montrezl Harrell (13.7 PTS, 63.1% FG, 7.1 REB, 1.1 AST, 22.1 PER), with the German international arriving via trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the reigning Sixth Man of the Year signing a two-year/$18.9 million contract as a Free Agent. The Lakers also added (veteran Center) Marc Gasol (4.0 PTs, 42.6% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.4 BLK, 11.4 PER) on a cheap, two-year/5.2 million deal, returning to the franchise that drafted him way back in 2007. As a result, this current incarnation of Showtime is a much more efficient offensive unit, particularly in terms of shooting and spacing; Frank Vogel’s charges shot just 34.9% (21st Overall) from beyond the arc last season, netting 11.0 treys per game (23rd Overall), but thus far have drained a more effective 38.9% from three (5th Overall) with 12.2 makes per contest (19th Overall). James himself is shooting at a career-best 41.2% from downtown, while also benefitting greatly from a slightly reduced work rate; at 36-years old and coming off the shortest Offseason in the history of the professional sporting leagues in the United States, resting the 16-time All-Star was always a mandate for Vogel & Co, with James logging a career-low 32.7 minutes through the first eighteen games. Of course, the presence of Davis along with the additions of Schroder and Harrell has allowed him to do so, with the latter tandem injecting some sorely-needed youth and energy into the rotation. However, even at this stage of his career James has proven more than capable of taking over games, which is precisely what he did on Monday night against a team that remains near and dear to the king’s heart…
“When he’s playing like that, it’s fun to watch. When he had what 19, 17 in the first? It’s over… He wasn’t missing. He was everywhere on the floor.”Anthony Davis on LeBron James’ performance in Monday’s 115-108 win at Cleveland
When we last saw the Lakers, they continued their perfect start to the campaign away from home this season with a 115-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, the ties between James and the franchise that drafted him No. One Overall way back in 2003 are tighter than the Gordian Knot, having led them to five NBA Finals appearances over the course of two spells and eleven years, including the club’s only NBA Championship in 2016. With that said, he has (publicly) left them twice, with the Akron, Ohio native appearing to take great pleasure in pummeling his former team; in sixteen meetings with the Cavs, LeBron has gone 15-1 against them and averaged 29.3 points on 55.7% shooting from the field, including 40.3% from three, along with 7.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists. So in this latest venture to the ‘Land (his first in two years), James absolutely went OFF against this former employer, totaling forty-six points on a ridiculous 19-of-26 shooting from the field (73.1%), including 7-of-11 from three (63.6%), with eight rebounds, six assists, and a pair of steals and blocks. With the visitors trailing by two heading into the Fourth Quarter after being outscored 31-22 in the third period, the four-time NBA Champion went on a tear over the final twelve minutes of action, outscoring the hosts all by his lonely (21-19), pouring in twenty-one points on a near-perfect 9-of-10 shooting, knocking down 3-of-4 attempts from long-range. As a team, Los Angeles shot 48.3% overall, including 10-of-32 from downtown (31.3%), and 21-of-28 from the Free-Throw Line (75.0%), with four other members of the rotation scoring in double-figures. Davis was fairly quiet in finishing the affair with just seventeen points on 5-of-16 shooting (31.3%), with all but ten of his scoring output coming from the charity stripe. Harrell added fifteen points and six rebounds off the bench, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (10.6 PTS, 52.0% FG, 50.0% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 15.6 PER) and the aforementioned Schroder combined for twenty points despite struggling from deep (1-of-9 3FG). Now it’s on Philadelphia where the Lakers will look to extend their league-best 10-0 start on the road; they’ve bested their opponents by an average margin of 12.5 points per game away from home, while shooting 47.5% from the field, 39.5% from beyond the arc, and owning a stellar Plus-4.6 differential on the glass. However, they were felled in last year’s trip to the City of Brotherly Love in a 108-91 affair, which saw them struggle mightily from deep (6-of-31) and commit twenty-one turnovers, as James and Davis accounted for sixty of their team’s point total. Furthermore, on that day LeBron passed the departed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, with the franchise mourning the one-year anniversary of the legend’s tragic death yesterday.
Meanwhile, with all the headlines that have come out of the Association of late, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the 76ers (12-6, 1st in Eastern Conference) have climbed their way to the top of the East. After underachieving last season, Philadelphia underwent major changes during the Offseason to all three levels of the franchise, enduring turnover on an executive level, coaching level, and most importantly within the roster as well. First and foremost, they shook up the leadership of the club by adding former Houston Rockets’ General Manager, Daryl Morey, to a similar role, while also hiring former Los Angeles Clippers’ Head Coach, Doc Rivers, to that same position. Both figures are tremendously well-respected throughout the league, with each coming the end of their cycles with their respective clubs; Morey did about all he could have done in Houston, going all in on maximizing the roster’s small-ball approach which inevitably saw them crash out of the Western Conference Semifinals in five games, while Rivers suffered an embarrassing defeat in the West Semis as the young Denver Nuggets rallied back to eliminate his heavily-favored Clippers despite owning (what was thought to be) a commanding 3-1 lead. Those failures aside, both men brought an aura credibility and legitimacy to the Sixers, who needed to make sense of themselves from a chemical standpoint after a season in which they resembled a bunch of disparate pieces that rarely assembled together to become greater than the sum of their parts. And it’s with that said that Morey and Rivers have cleaned up the personnel and rotation, creating a more harmonious squad with far better balance than it’s predecessor. Always a capable facilitator of the deal, Morey packaged ill-fitting Forward, Al Horford, in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder that returned veteran sharpshooter (and not to mention former Laker), Danny Green (9.1 PTS, 37.5% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 10.4 PER), simultaneously getting off one of the league’s worst contracts, creating cap flexibility, and adding some sorely-needed shooting and spacing to the Offense. However, he didn’t stop there as he acquired another sniper in the form of Seth Curry (15.6 PTS, 56.0% FG, 53.7% 3FG, 2.1 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.9 STL, 18.6 PER), in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks for Josh Richardson (who was another poor fit), further unclogging the attack. Together, Green and Curry have averaged 24.7 points while shooting 36.5% and 53.7% from downtown respectively, with the team as a whole averaging a much-improved 113.7 points per game (9th Overall) and knocking down 36.1% of their threes (14th Overall). Oh, and it certainly hasn’t hurt that (All-Star Center) Joel Embiid (27.7 PTS, 55.4% FG, 40.5% 3FG, 11.5 REB, 2.7 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.4 BLK, 31.2 PER) has gotten himself into the best shape of his young career; the 26-year old Cameroon international has thus far posted career-highs in scoring (27.7), field goal percentage (55.4%), three-point percentage (40.5%), two-point percentage (58.9%), and free-throw percentage (83.3%), with Rivers motivating him with tales of Hall-of-Famer, Kevin Garnett, from their time together in Boston. With that said, Embiid is expected to miss tonight’s showdown with Los Angeles due to soreness in his lower back, and when you consider the seven-footer’s lengthy injury history, taking every precaution in regards to his health and well-being in a clear priority for Rivers and his Staff.
“We didn’t play well tonight. This was a very winnable game in my opinion, we just didn’t win the game. I’m not going to overdo it right now. Way too early… I like our team. I like how we’re playing overall.”Doc Rivers on the 76ers’ 119-104 loss at the Pistons this past Monday
When we last saw the 76ers, their three-game winning streak came to an end in their second straight meeting with the Detroit Pistons, this time falling in a 119-104 loss in the Motor City. As the aforementioned Embiid sat out with back soreness, the visitors struggled mightily on both ends of the floor, shooting an underwhelming 42.6% from the field, including a dismal 9-of-28 from beyond the arc (32.1%), and dishing out just fifteen assists. On the opposite end of the hardwood, the hosts shot a blistering 50.0% overall, including 17-of-38 from downtown (44.7%), while netting a ridiculous 32-of-38 free-throws (84.2%). It was clear that they missed the gregarious Center, who totaled thirty-three points and fourteen rebounds in Saturday’s narrow 114-110 victory at Little Caesar’s Arena. Needless to say, this is one of those unfortunate performances in which Rivers is likely to toss in the trash, for at the end of the day this loss came down to their inability to make shots. Philadelphia was outscored by twenty-four points from long-range and seventeen from the charity stripe, allowing one of the East’s bottom-feeders to have their way with them on the offensive end, despite outscoring them in the paint (48-30) and in transition (11-8), while taking full advantage of their nineteen turnovers which they parlayed into thirty-three points. Veteran Swingman, Tobias Harris (19.8 PTS, 51.8% FG, 45.8% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.0 BLK, 18.7 PER), led the way a team-high twenty-five points 10-of-19 shooting (52.6%), along with seven rebounds and two assists, though the duo of Green and Curry could muster just thirteen points on 4-of-16 shooting (25.0%) between them. All-Star Point Guard, Ben Simmons (12.8 PTS, 52.5% FG, 16.7% 3FG, 8.4 REB, 7.9 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.9 BLK, 17.0 PER), failed to make much of an impact as well, finishing with eleven points, four rebounds, and four assists in just 21:27 of action. The home side raced out to an early 17-4 lead in the First Quarter and would never trail in the contest, as the affair eventually became rather testy between the two sides, with the Sixers hit with four Technical Fouls and the Pistons with one. Rivers & Co will be looking to put this loss behind them as they return home to welcome the Lakers, looking to keep building on their impressive standing at Wells Fargo Center. Home-cooking is nothing new for this franchise, who last year alone authored the league’s best home record at 31-4; Philadelphia is 9-1 at home thus far, outscoring the opposition by an average margin of 7.8 points per game, while shooting 49.7% from the field, including 38.2% from downtown, and assisting on a healthy 27.0 of their 43.4 field goals. In last year’s meeting with Los Angeles on January 25th, they shot a blistering 52.6% overall, including 13-of-37 from deep (35.1%), with Simmons and Harris combining for fifty-seven points on 22-of-35 shooting (62.8%) from the floor, along with eighteen rebounds, nine assists, and four steals with Embiid once again sidelined due to injury.