The Los Angeles Lakers have put together strong performances in each of their last three games, despite being victorious in only two. But with the Philadelphia 76ers coming to L.A. on Wednesday night, that consistency is receiving a massive test.
The 76ers are led by MVP hopeful Joel Embiid and superstar James Harden, who they acquired at February’s trade deadline. Together, Harden and Embiid are one of the league’s most formidable duos, and both figure to be in the lineup against the Lakers.
Harden and Embiid took Monday night off when the 76ers faced the Miami Heat on the second night of a back-to-back. Even still, the 76ers managed to steal a win behind Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris. While depth is a common criticism of Philadelphia, it did not appear to affect them against the East’s No. 1 seed.
The Lakers have not had the same fortune this season with their depth, especially when it comes to health. Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn remain sidelined despite some recent on-court footage from both players.
Meanwhile, LeBron James has been ruled out due to left knee soreness/effusion. James has been dealing with the knee issue for a while now and has mostly been able to play through it, so he must be dealing with a great deal of pain to sit this game out. The Lakers don’t play again until Sunday, so sitting out this game will give him almost a week of rest.
Even without James though, the Lakers have a chance to grab their third win in four games against an Eastern Conference playoff team. They stole wins against the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers on their most recent road trip, but have needed James to have other-worldly performances to do it.
James has been on another level since the All-Star break, averaging 32.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 52.8% from the field, so it will be no easy task to replace that production.
Against Embiid, Harden, and the rest of the 76ers, the Lakers are going to need strong production from Russell Westbrook.
Amid constant criticism, Westbrook has played well in L.A.’s last three games. He has hit the corner three with more efficiency, limited his defensive miscues, and has shifted well into a role as a secondary ball-handler.
Of course, consistency has been the main issue with Westbrook and the Lakers all season long. So for Wednesday, the goal has to be a repeat of their last three performances. If they’re capable of doing that back on their home floor, it’s possible they steal another victory.
If they can’t, they risk once again falling behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the 10th seed and final spot in the Play-In Tournament. They currently have just a one-game cushion. Meanwhile, the 76ers are in a deadlock with the Boston Celtics for the No. 3 seed in the east, as well as just 0.5 games back of the No. 2-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
Lakers (31-41) vs. 76ers (44-27)
7:00 p.m. PT, March 23, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Austin Reaves
PF: Wenyen Gabriel
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Stanley Johnson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington, D.J. Augustin
Projected 76ers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyrese Maxey
SG: James Harden
SF: Matisse Thybulle
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Key Reserves: Danny Green, Shake Milton, Paul Reed, DeAndre Jordan, Georges Niang
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