WHAT THE 76ers and Lakers had in common Sunday night was that both teams were missing their point guards. Jrue Holiday sat his second straight game with a sprained foot while Steve Nash continues to recover from a broken leg he suffered early in the season.
The difference between the two teams is this: The Sixers moved Evan Turner to the point and started Nick Young in Holiday's place. The Lakers, without future Hall of Famer Nash, simply rely on other weapons, most notably one of the greatest players to run up and down the floor and another who has been the best center in the game for the past few seasons.
Is it really any wonder the Lakers were able to stroll to a 111-98 win? Despite their recent troubles, falling back on the likes of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard is a pretty good option, and they certainly did that and more in winning back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month and handing the Sixers (12-12) their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Under new coach Mike D'Antoni, this is the type of offensive performance Los Angeles expects. The Lakers converted 14 of 34 three-pointers, fed the ball into Howard when needed, and watched in awe as Bryant was his normal brilliant self with 34 points and six assists.
As good as Los Angeles appeared offensively, a lot had to do with the Sixers defense, or lack of it. Many, or perhaps most, of the Lakers' treys were uncontested. And when the Sixers did contest, well, there's not a better scorer under duress than Bryant. Still, coach Doug Collins was not at all pleased with his team's defensive effort.
"Unfortunately right now we are struggling mightily to defend the three," Collins said. "We were outscored by 25 points from the three-point line and the free-throw line [combined]. I think our last few losses we've been minus-15, minus-9 at the three-point line, minus-6 from the foul line. That's tough to overcome. We're going to have to figure it out. Last year we were one of the best three-point defensive teams in the league. Obviously we've lost some key defenders and some speed and we've not been able to figure it out yet."
Collins mentioned the speed but what he really needs is for his players to be quicker with their mouths more so than their feet.
"One of the things is that we're missing Jrue Holiday," said Turner, whio scored 16 points and dealt six assists. "Teams are hitting shots, you have to give credit to them. But it's about the intensity and the communication.
"We have to get better at it, maybe communicating louder, especially in different venues and stuff like that. But their shots were going in, and that's what makes it difficult."
Collins is seeking team communication - letting each other know when and how they want to rotate when guarding the perimeter and talking through screens. This has proven to be very difficult with the quiet group of individuals that make up his team. And the Lakers did a great job of exploiting it.
Metta World Peace, whom many still refer to as Ron Artest, collected 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Howard went for 17 points and 11 rebounds and anemic scorer Darius Morris scored all of his 15 points in the first half. Chris Duhon added 14 and former Sixer Jodie Meeks added 12.
"Ron Artest came out and didn't even blink and hit three threes," Turner said. "That's the kind of shot you want him to take. Darius Morris hit some, Jodie hit some, Kobe was Kobe, and Duhon, he played great. I don't know if he's hit four threes since his freshman year at Duke. When people get that hot, you have to take your hat off to them. It makes it extremely harder, especially with the great players they have there."
Nick Young led the Sixers with 30, including six threes of his own. Spencer Hawes had 16 and Thaddeus Young added 14, but the Sixers offense was mostly a scramble most of the night. It was far easier for the Lakers to score than it was for the Sixers to even get a good shot. And now comes a dreaded stretch in which they play 10 of the next 11 on the road.
"At the end of the day, we lost by 13 and we got outscored by 13 from the free-throw line," Collins said. "Every night. When we were 3-13 [2 years ago] that's what was happening, it was turnovers and the free-throw line. Tonight we had 18 turnovers, to a team who is one of the worst at turning you over.
"I'm not concerned about the road because I don't think we play any differently at home or on the road. I'm concerned about us playing the kind of basketball we have to play to win consistently. And defensively right now we're nowhere near being able to win a basketball game."