The Los Angeles Lakers will host the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at home in a matchup of two teams tied for the third fewest wins this season. Despite sitting at just 17 wins apiece, the two teams are trending in opposite directions with the Lakers having lost four straight and the 76ers having won two straight. These teams are in full on talent-evaluation mode and will be looking for big contributions from their young players. Each team features a guy who will likely end up on an All-Rookie team by the end of the season in Jordan Clarkson and Nerlens Noel.
Despite being a rookie after missing the entirety of his first professional season, Nerlens Noel is already the best player on the 76ers roster. While his offensive game is a work in progress, he is an absolute handful on the defensive end where he can rip the ball from the hands of smaller players or rise up to reject fellow big men. He has become a fantasy basketball darling with absurd averages of 1.8 steals and 1.9 blocks a game. His 45.8 percent shooting from the field leaves much to be desired for a big man, but his offense has improved significantly as the season progressed; he is averaging 13.5 points in the month of March (against an average of 9.5 on the season) and is coming off of a career high 23 against the helpless Knicks.
Next to Noel, the 76ers start a pair of very similar forwards. Although just a rookie, the undrafted JaKarr Sampson projects a lot like journeyman forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Already on his fourth team in six years, Mbah a Moute has shown little development in his offensive game. He remains an above average defender, but brings little else to the table and has failed to develop the outside stroke that would separate himself from other defensive specialists. While the jury is still out on the young Sampson, he is staggeringly similar to Mbah a Moute as a tweener who hangs his hat on his ability to defend both perimeter and post players. He has shown limited offensive ability as well and will have to hone his long-range shooting if he wants to have some staying power in the league.
Jason Richardson starts at shooting guard for the 76ers. Throughout his twelve year career, he has been a prolific dunker and scorer, holding a career scoring average of 17.2 points a game. That said, he is clearly in the twilight of his career as he is managing just 9.4 points on a putrid 33.6 percent shooting in twelve games this year. His three point shooting has fallen off significantly as well. For the most part, the Lakers should allow Richardson to chuck away and will generally be satisfied if 76ers possessions end with Richardson shooting the ball.
At point guard, Ish Smith is yet another 76er that has trouble shooting the ball. And unlike his contemporaries that also struggle with shooting, such as Rajon Rondo or Elfrid Payton, Smith isn’t nearly as effective as a passer. He is on a bit of a tear as of late though, posting averages of 13.0 points and 7.0 dimes over his last five games. Still, Jordan Clarkson should get the better of this matchup on both ends of the floor and this will be a welcome break for Clarkson with all of the top flight point guards he has had to face in the West.
Keys to Victory:
Force them to Shoot the Long Ball: The 76ers have a serious dearth of perimeter shooters and that is reflected in their team average of 31.8 percent from deep, which is good for 29th in the league. Accordingly, the Lakers should encourage the 76ers to settle for three point shots early and often. The only real threat to get hot is Jason Richardson, but at this point in his career, he’ll have to knock down a couple of triples before he gets full defensive attention.
Defend the Drive: This key goes hand in hand with encouraging three point shots as the Lakers wing defenders should be inclined to help defend cutting guards even if it means leaving their marks somewhat open. When you also consider that the 76ers lack a true post up threat, stopping dribble penetration becomes the biggest defensive focus. If the Lakers pack the paint and keep them from getting into the lane, they should severely hamper any playmaking from their guards.
Rebounding: The 76ers are very beatable on the glass. They sit at 27th in the league in rebounding differential, getting outrebounded by an average of 3.0 rebounds a game. The Lakers often deploy unconventional lineups, but the 76ers don’t really have a particularly long frontcourt. If Jordan Hill can hold his own on the glass against Noel, the Lakers will be fine as they should win out at the other positional matchups.
Los Angeles Lakers (17-50) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (17-52)
6:30 PM PST, March 22, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
76ers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ish Smith
SG: Jason Richardson
SF: JaKarr Sampson
PF: Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
C: Nerlens Noel
Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Canaan, SF: Robert Covington, SF: Jerami Grant
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Tarik Black
C: Jordan Hill
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