NBA

76ers' revamped offense gets chance to shine in Los Angeles

By Sports Desk March 22, 2022

The stars will be out on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena when the Philadelphia 76ers roll into town to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

After sitting out the second leg of Monday's back-to-back against the Miami Heat, superstar duo Joel Embiid and James Harden should be back in the line-up for the 44-27 76ers as they jostle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference two seed.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fighting to keep their head above water, with their 31-41 record leaving them five games behind the eight seed Los Angeles Clippers as they prepare for the impending play-in tournament.

The Sixers are in the midst of a stylistic metamorphosis since the arrival of Harden at the All-Star break, completely re-shaping their offensive profile.

 

As was expected, the 76ers' free-throw rate (FTR) skyrocketed when it paired arguably the two greatest shooting-foul magnets of this generation.

Their 0.259 FTR – which means Philadelphia was shooting free throws on nearly 26 per cent of their possessions prior to Harden's arrival – was good for fourth in the NBA, with the Houston Rockets leading that category at 0.291.

While league-wide FTR is significantly up since the All-Star break, primarily due to it being artificially low to start the season as referees cracked down on players milking free throws, the 76ers have taken it to the extreme, leading the league at 0.374 following Harden's arrival – with only Philly and the New York Knicks (0.363) above third-placed Denver's 0.310.

No team has posted a FTR higher than 0.374 since Harden and Dwight Howard's 2013-14 Houston Rockets (0.386)

To say the 76ers have relied on free throws to sustain their scoring production is an understatement – since the trade, their 41.4 points in the paint per 100 possessions is the worst in the league, all while the offense revolves around a seven-foot-two behemoth in Embiid.

As has been the case with Harden's teams, specifically during his tenure in Houston, his offenses will live and die with free throws and three-pointers, with the 76ers upping their long-range attempts from 31.7 per 100 possessions to 35.6, moving from 26th in the league up to 11th.

It is irrefutable that Harden has changed this offense but, while Philadelphia's offensive efficiency has increased from 111 points per 100 possessions up to 115.4, their attack remains the 14th-best as league-wide efficiency is up across the board due to shooting fouls increasing and teams finding their rhythm.

On the other side, the Lakers are learning to live without injured centrepiece Anthony Davis, and the numbers have not been pretty on both ends.

Lacking a true interior presence since the All-Star break, the Lakers' FTR has plummeted from eighth in the league (0.251) to 26th (0.239), and their once-vaunted defense has become one of the league's worst.

As well as being 27th in overall defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, the Lakers are the league's second-worst team when it comes to allowing points in the paint.

So what happens when a movable object – the Lakers' paint defence – meets a stoppable force – Philadelphia's paint scoring?
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS 

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

While Harden is a former MVP, Embiid is the favourite for this year's award, and his level of play is usually the deciding factor in whether the 76ers win or lose.

In wins this season, Embiid is averaging 31.7 points and 4.6 assists on 51 per cent shooting from the field, with those numbers dropping to 25.9 points and 3.7 assists on 43 per cent shooting in losses.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Simply put, since the All-Star break, the Lakers only win when James dominates.

In that period, the Lakers have a record of 4-9 when James plays, with the four-time champion averaging 45 points, 9.3 rebounds and seven assists in the four wins.


KEY BATTLE – Who wants to run?

A glaring weakness of both teams since the All-Star break has been transition defense, with the Lakers dead last, allowing 18.7 fastbreak points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have not been much better, coming in at 28th, allowing 16.6 per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia have been criticised for being slow, while the Lakers have been criticised for being old, but which team is going to take advantage?

The Lakers appear more equipped to play an up-tempo style, coming in at fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (14.9), and it is worth noting that no player has more fastbreak dunks this season than LeBron James' 36.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 76ers won this season's only meeting, coming away with a 105-87 home win in a January game where Anthony Davis played, and played well for the Lakers in the critical absence of James.

Philadelphia won both meetings in the 2020-21 season, with the Lakers' last triumph coming on March 3, 2020.

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