Lakers – 76ers Running Diary

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Greetings from the Spectrum – I mean Wachovia Center – in Philadelphia. I will say that I had the whole first quarter covered in full, before my wireless internet card went out. So let’s play a little catchup … First the business:

Jason Smith’s inactive for the 76ers with an injury, while Sun Yue and D.J. Mbenga are wearing suits for the Lakers.

Sixers: Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert
Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum

First Quarter
Last night in Indiana, the Lakers gave up too many uncontested threes and didn’t do a good job on the defensive glass. Yet somehow, Thaddeus Young nailed two uncontested threes in the first two minutes on this evening, one of which came after a Dalembert offensive rebound. Oops. That allowed the 76ers to open an early 10-3 lead that would eventually grow to 17-9.

But then the Lakers starting playing hoops.

Purple and gold jerseys were flying all over the place defensively, contesting and blocking shots to hold the 76ers to just six points in the final 7:33 of action until Iguodala managed a deep jumper as the first quarter clock expired. Keying the run was Radmanovic, whose three triples and 17-footer totaled 11-of-31 Lakers points. Also turning it on in front of a crowd that always offers a few boos to its not-so-favorite Lower Merion son, as Bryant went for 12 points, 10 of which were in the final seven minutes.

By the way, what do you think the best combined name would be from these two teams? Thaddeus Dalembert for the 76ers? DJ Yue for L.A.? Kobe Vujacic? I can’t decide…

Alas, the Lakers shot a fantastic 61.9 percent in the third after missing 4-of-5 to start the quarter. In other words, the Lakers shot 75 percent to close the quarter. The only turnover of the period came at the 8:22 mark, though Philly did win the battle of the boards (10-6). The best news for the Lakers was that the defense picked up considerably after a hesitant start, which was probably the primary element of the game L.A.’s coaches and fans wanted to see.

Second Quarter
While the Lakers’ second unit looked far superior to that of Philadelphia to open the second on a 8-2 run, Lamar Odom passed up a wide-open jumper in the corner that had to draw the ire of Phil Jackson. Put it up, LO!

Jordan Farmar then went on an individual four-point scoring streak, nailing a three and hitting 1-of-2 free throws after slashing to the glass to give the Lakers their biggest lead at 43-29, forcing Maurice Cheeks to put his starters back in the contest since his bench (Willie Green, Theo Ratliff, Louis Williams and Marreese Speights) was getting destroyed.

Philly’s starters immediately picked up their team’s play – not surprising, I guess – by twice getting on the offensive glass and capitalizing with hoops, scoring six quick points in 1:30 to cut the lead back to 10. Then Odom, a bench player with more skill than (arguably, of course) any of Philly’s starters, smartly isolated Thaddeus Young on the left block and easily turned around to drop in a lefty mini-hook. LO then cleared a defensive board and found Farmar streaking up the court, resulting in a massive one-handed jam from the trailing Bynum. Textbook fastbreaking right there, folks. And hey, I don’t want to forget about Samuel Speights and Sasha Ariza, those names are fun also.

With 4:20 on the clock, the Lakers were shooting 64.5 percent (20-of-31), and an en fuego 73.1 percent since starting the game 1-for-5. Kobe Bryant might call that a “Business Trip.” Kobe, by the way, started the game 7-of-9 (3-of-3 from the line) for 17 points. The lead was nine at the point in the game as the Sixers were shooting a pretty solid 51.4 percent themselves. Surely, that number is too high, and one the Lakers will surely look to corral.

Iguodala Heating Up: After averaging 19 points a game last season and seemingly emerging as a top-notch player, the high-flier had been struggling through much of the season offensively, failing to score 19 points even once until finally breaking through for 25 in last night’s overtime win at Chicago. That performance seems to have done something for Iggy’s confidence, however, because he barely missed in the first half, converting 7-of-8 field goals for 14 points.

The half closed with the Lakers up 61-51 when Gasol’s tip of a Bryant layup attempt rimmed out by the same fraction of an inch that Troy Murphy’s went down on Tuesday evening. Andre Miller took 14 shots for his 17 points, matching Bryant for the game high, while Gasol scored seven of his 11 points in the second quarter to tie with Vladi. Odom, Farmar and Ariza combined for 15 points of L.A.’s bench, compared to just four points off the Philly bench from Royal Ivey. Speaking of Royal, that goes pretty well with any last name: Royal Brand, Royal (with) Cheese, Royal Odom, Royal Trudell… See, everybody wins!

I don’t like cheese. Sorry.

That was a problem for a few of my fellow Lakers staffers when we went to the Greek Diner “Pete’s” in Philly for lunch. Two of my superiors in particular weren’t too happy when I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Steak instead of a Philly Cheese Steak.

I mean, what can I say? Cheese does not taste good in my mouth. It’s just a fact. Sue me. I mean, some people don’t like chocolate. Do you hate them? Isn’t that worse than not liking cheese (sigh)?

Third Quarter
(15 minutes later…)
Hey I’m back. I’m convinced that the internet in nearly every NBA city to which we travel personally dislikes me. It stopped working for most of the third quarter, only coming back on as Derek Fisher nailed a triple to put the Lakers up 77-64. Philly had managed to get within six on a few occasions (five once), and Elton Brand missed a dunk that would have cut it to three before Bynum went on a fierce personal scoring streak. First came a driving layup, then a nasty two-handed follow-up jam (on a Kobe miss) and then another layup, plus the foul, that put L.A. up ten. That hoop plus the harm started a 14-1 Lakers run that culminated when Bryant stripped the ball from Ivey (that’s Royal), caught up to the ball in the far corner of the court, measured his three-point shot for about two seconds, and canned it. All of a sudden, it was 83-64 Lakers.

Remember last night when the Lakers ended the third quarter on a 17-0 run? Tonight’s was only a 16-6 run, but nonetheless, it put the Lakers firmly in control with a 16-point lead (85-69) entering the fourth. No one here need be reminded that the Lakers blew that lead last night, and I’m sure the players are quite well aware… But it’ll be fun to see how they respond, yes?

Fourth Quarter
Jackson had this lineup in to start the fourth: Farmar, Vujacic, Ariza, Odom and Bynum, and the group allowed Philly to pull back just a few points at 91-78 with 9:06 to go. Last night, the same group conceded four early fourth quarter turnovers, but only Bynum turned it over (once) to that point.

The bad news for Lakers fans is that L.A. committed four fouls in that small window of time, meaning the next foul puts Philly at the line for the rest of the period in the bonus. If you think that’s good news, you probably don’t like “Top Gun,” white chocolate (especially the Easter bunny stuff) or the Beatles.

I think it’s good that this isn’t the playoffs, and the Lakers didn’t blow a lead the night before to the same team they’re now playing. Allow me to explain: If a team blows a big lead in the fourth quarter in a road city during a playoff game, there is a 100 percent chance that the crowd would be going nuts after Andre Miller’s free throw cut a 15-point lead to a 10-point lead. But who knows how many people in the building are even aware that the Lakers lost to Indiana? There certainly wasn’t any cheering going on as Philly tried to fight back, and Bynum responded with four-straight points to put the Lakers up 95-81 with 7:32 left and Kobe checking in for Sasha. In other news, your own Ty Nowell just IMed me suggesting white chocolate isn’t good … You know what Ty? Arizona State stinks.

David Aldridge Note Great NBA mind and longtime columnist David Aldridge was sitting next to me for a few minutes tonight, and I asked him what stood out to him about this Lakers team. “Their length,” he responded.

Back on the floor, something called Louis Williams managed to score 10 points in the first 6:30 of action in the fourth, helping keep Philly in the game, though the Sixers had no answer for ‘Drew, whose 13 second half points to that point had the Lakers up 99-88. Speaking of Bynum, he had four assists and three rebounds at that point … the last time he had more assists than boards was Dec. 5, 2007, almost a year ago*. Dang. Anyway, time to close it out, fellas.
Thanks to Ty for that stat – sorry about the ASU low blow, I was upset about the white chocolate diss)

Philly finally got L.A.’s lead under 10 with a driving layup from Thad Young, though it was quickly back to nine as Dalembert fouled Gasol on the perimeter and Pau managed 1-of-2 free throws. Then came an Andre Miller layup (seven-point lead), and the Philly fans started to cheer … Until they hissed as Bryant converted an extremely difficult hanging layup that made it 106-97.

Iguodala then missed a big three moments later, until Kobe took the former to the hole and drew a foul, garnering two fouls shots at the 2:02 mark, sinking both for an 11-point lead. If those free throws didn’t seal the deal, Kobe’s driving layup certainly did on the next possession, giving him an even 30 points and the Lakers a 12-point lead. Thad Young managed an and-1 after that, before Kobe rubbed it in with a killer crossover and 22-foot jumper. That wasn’t very nice, Kobe.

Gasol added two free throws, and Fisher dribbled the clock out for a 114-102 victory. Surely more importantly than the 15th W on the season was how L.A. responded to holding a fourth quarter lead after blowing one last night.

Gasol was huge in the second half with 10 of his 13 boards, plus 11 of his 22 points. Bynum did finish with more dimes than boards plus his 18 points, while Bryant added six boards, four assists and two steals to his game-high 32 points. As a team, the Lakers pulled out the edge on the glass, 41-37, and shot a fantastic 58.1 percent from the field.

Check back in a few for a postgame wrap, and we’ll see you from D.C. on Friday night.