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Things to watch in Lakers-76ers matchup


1. Will the focus still be there?

The Lakers (22-10) return to Staples Center for a game tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers (13-18) in much higher spirits than when they left home. The Lakers had just come off an embarrassing Christmas Day effort against Miami, and even if the effort improved against San Antonio, the result still appeared as ugly.

Fortunately the Lakers held a meeting that proved instrumental in a 103-88 victory Wednesday at New Orleans. It doesn't sound as cliche as you might think. The Lakers didn't have any dramatic speeches or anything of that sort. They simply went over tactical changes the team needed to make, ranging from focusing more on the paint presence than firing from the outside as well as Phil Jackson's decision to return Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup sooner than expected.

The Lakers showed against New Orleans how focus and team chemistry can make a difference. But it's a false notion to equate that to the Lakers' ability to flipping the switch. The true measure of any change involves how much it is sustained through a long period of time. There are a few variables such as the 76ers' record and New Year's Eve festivities that might be stumbling blocks in the Lakers' effort to keep that focus and chemistry.

But the Sixers' record is misleading. Philadelphia has won 10 of its last 16 games, including signature wins against Orlando, Denver and Phoenix as well as competitive games against the Lakers and Celtics. Even if Andre Iguoudla's status for tonight remains uncertain because of right Achilles' tendinitis, Evan Turner has averaged about 13 points in his absence, a sharp increase from the five points he normally averages. And to complement the 14.8 points former UCLA product Jrue Holiday averages, Philadelphia boasts seven other players scoring at least eight points a contest.

2. How will Andrew Bynum respond in his second start?

Bynum passed a significant test when his body responded well in Thursday's practice, despite appearing in back-to-back games, including a 30-minute performance on the latter end of that set. Jackson's always looked at the next practice as a good indicator how well an injured or rehabbed player absorbed the workload the previous game. Bynum's planned start against Philadelphia will also prove a good indicator on what his 18-point performance on eight-of-12 shooting actually means.

That's not to take anything away from Bynum. He's cracked double figures in three of the last five games. After shooting 21.4% in the first three games after rehabbing from offseason surgery on his right knee, Bynum has averaged a 70.9% clip in the next five. It's impressive that Bynum established a rhythm despite limited touches, something he said contributed to poor outings in previous seasons. But his 12 field-goal attempts against New Orleans far surpassed the four shots he averaged in previous games, showing the Lakers stuck to their plan in feeding him and that the strategy likely threw New Orleans for a loop. In addition to Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand proving to be more defensively skilled than Emeka Okafur, Philadelphia will likely emphasize limiting Bynum more than the Hornets did.

No doubt, Bynum's presence immediately bolsters the Lakers' defensive rotations, post presence and Pau Gasol's chance to rest no matter what teams do. But if nothing else, Bynum will have a clearer measuring stick, a snapshot he currently says involves him having little pain though he still feels limited with his explosiveness.

3. Can the Lakers cut down on the turnovers?

In the last five games, the Lakers have averaged 16.8 turnovers a contest, a clip that ranks fourth worst in the NBA. Surely, the Lakers' poor offensive chemistry during their three-game losing streak contributed to those numbers. But the Lakers still committed 20 turnovers when the offense flourished against New Orleans, including seven from Kobe Bryant. That's a byproduct of the Lakers beginning to hone in again on ball movement and team fundamentals after resorting to isolation plays for much of the last month. But it also raises questions on whether Bryant's pinkie and right index fingers are really hurting him more than he's admitting.

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lamar Odom finished with 28 points in the Lakers' 93-81 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. Credit: Barbara Johnston / U.S. Presswire.

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Mamba24- I like to wish you and your family a Happy New year, you're the HEART AND SOUL of this blog, and that's hands down the TRUTH.

And I'm not just saying this, your energy and enthusiasm makes me temporarily forget about my trials of everyday life. It's been my pleasure to travel on this journey with you and the cure, as we seek another championship. "Happy New Year CURE"


2PHATT, Stop this, Stop this now I say! lol! !I'm not even the Heart and Soul of my household lol! But Thank you sir. Best wishes to you and yours for a Happy and Prosperous New years too. I do not intend to drive therefore I can have plenty to drink! lmao!!! Yes it has been a fun journey with even more fun to come I predict, with an ultimate 3-peat at the end. To paraphase a great man. I may not get their with you, but we as a Lakers Nation will reach the 3-Peat Promise Land!

I second that emotion! Honor goes out to Smokey for that.

@D(EREK) J(ETER), I was wondering when you were going to show up sir. I can't call it a night on the Blog until I wish you and yours a Happy and Properous New Year my brother. It's been great blogging with you thru the years.

I just want to express my thanks and sentiments to welcoming me with open arms. This year has been an absolute blast. Here's to a strong 2011!!

MM, For all you do, Thank you!! You came in during trying times and performed what was nothing short of a miracle with The Blog. The whole Lakers Nation owes a debt of gratitude to you. May the New Year bring Happiness, Prosperity and all your desires to you and yours.
HAPPY NEW YEAR BLOG GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well I'm about to call it a night Laker Nation. To anyone I may have missed wishing Happy New Years to my apologies, but I've said it so many times that frankly I really don't know if I missed someone or not. So to the entire Laker Nation. May the New Year Bless The Lakers, The Lakers Blog and Lakers Nation and all the families. HAPPY NEW YEAR LAKERS NATION!! I Love you one and all.

@MM - Thanks for doing a great job with the blog. Happy New Year!

Nice to see Jrue Holiday doing so well...especially since I have him on my fantasy team :-)

Mark Medina - Happy New Year!!! May you and your family have a great, healthy and prosperous 2011...

Thanks for all you do for our Blog...

Evan Turner, great talent, if someone would give a shot. Unfortunately, he didn't fit in with any of Philly' needs (Doug Collins), he didn't want to go there. They end up drafting him for some bizarre reason, now, he suffers, because Doug Collins's coaching style is 20 years ago. This kid, is something special, if he's groomed properly. There is no reason he should be struggling this much, even w/limited playing time. I think Collins is the antithesis of what Turner needs to develop.

you wrote: Sloan and Pop are great coaches no doubt. But my question is if Pop’s approach is the model you’re holding up--how come he hasn’t been able to achieve a repeat?
Posted by: LRob | December 31, 2010 at 12:00 AM

my response: Because Sloan had this misfortune to face MJ. Because Pop had the misfortune to face Kobe Bryant! If either of these two aren't in the league .... Sloan & Pop win multiple championships.
Posted by: hobbitmage | December 31, 2010 at 09:21 AM

hobbit - My question was strictly about Pop. Okay Kobe is a great answer for what happened to his repeat dreams in 04 and 08. What about 06? He had #1 seed. They had game 7 at home vs. Dallas. What happened to Pop's great coaching there? Or how about being swept last year by Phoenix? I don't think his teams played up to their talent level in those series.

Again I know Pop is a great coach. I was responding to JimJoyce statement about Pop's teams always playing to their talent level.

@LakerMike – I enjoyed your post on the difficulties of achieving the 3peat. I would also factor in the challenges of getting to four straight finals. No team has accomplished that since the 84-87 Celtics.

@hobbit - Excellent job of detailing Kobe's work ethic and how its impacted his teammates.

Kobe will past Iceman tonight for 13th place (only 2pts behind) all-time NBA/ABA scoring. Next up Dominique...just 75pts ahead of Kobe.

Hey Lakerholics,

Thanks to you for making the Lakers blog a vibrant community of basketball fans. Happy New Year and best wishes to each of you in 2011.

And to Mark Medina,

All the best, my man. Keep up the great effort and work. No, really, I mean it. Like for 180 days non-stop, please. Hah!

Enjoy the live chat and game tonight, everyone. I'll be nose-to-the-grindstone in the office, as per usual on a Friday night.

Take care, all.

I think it is obvious to everyone that Kobe is limited by his injured fingers and his knee surgery. The remaining question is how to get them in better condition and still play. I know how hard it is to do both from personal experience and can't imagine how he doesn't get many whacks on those fingers every game (mostly intentional, as it should be)and has any expectation of getting well enough to limit his turnovers. His ball handling pinky is crucial to his limiting turnovers. His bad index finger is a shooting finger, so that is why his FG% is down again.

The lift in his knee may be the one thing he may be able to rehab in-season............we'll see. As a huge fan of his, and really why I get excited about watching each game, I pray for it and hope he stays smart and out of the mano-a mano mentality he gets into sometimes to the team's detriment................

2011 - here we come! Lakers streak going for two tonight!

Happy New Year everybody, "Bonne Année, Bonne Santé !"

Mark, fantastic job in following up the K-bros. You are not in their or anyone else's shadow.

Laker Tom, Jon K, Tom Daniels, Laker Tom, Rick Friedman, Phred, Mamba24, and all the other old-timers I've neglected to mention; a special New Year's wish and blessing for you guys. I rarely post anymore--so busy with work and family--but I check in daily. It's been fun experiencing Lakeraholism during this freaky championship run. I hope we can keep keep it going for at least one more.



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