NBA fans love speculating about hypothetical matchups between top-tier teams. Once the upper echelons of the two conferences are established, it leads to barber-shop talk and bar-room debates all around the world.
Well, this season the Philadelphia 76ers are one of the fiercest teams in the league. They hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and are one of the most heavily favored teams to make the 2021 NBA Finals.
On the other coast, the LA Lakers are struggling with a bevy of injuries. However, fans and analysts around the league seem convinced that it is just a phase. They believe that the team will be back to winning ways once their stars are back in the lineup.
What does a Philadelphia 76ers vs LA Lakers NBA Finals look like?
The LA Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers have faced each other twice this season, and the latter won on both occasions. It may be argued that the second matchup is not worth considering as Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were all injured.
However, the first matchup tells us a lot. Even though the game was largely close, the 76ers were the ones in control. They dictated the pace of the game, and the Lakers didn't seem to have an answer for Joel Embiid as he kept bullying his way in the paint.
Statistically, the LA Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers are pretty evenly matched. Both teams boast an incredibly high level of defense. The Lakers are 1st in the league in defensive rating, while the 76ers are ranked 2nd.
Both teams are below-average in three-point shooting but are great at getting to the charity stripe. They also shoot nearly the same FG% from the field.
In that first matchup, the two teams had nearly the same assist-to-turnover ratio and offensive rating.
LeBron James pulled out all the stops to put this one away early. He had 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting in the first half. He finished the game with 34 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Anthony Davis had 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the floor.
Meanwhile, Joel Embiid finished the game with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Ben Simmons, on the other hand, posted a triple-double with 17 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
Interestingly, the LA Lakers shot just 33% from the three-point line, shooting 8-24. Meanwhile, the 76ers shot 36% going 9-25 from the floor.
Doc Rivers' perimeter defense against the LA Lakers was quite effective for the majority of the game, except in the fourth quarter.
Out of the 8-24 threes the Lakers shot, 5-8 threes came in the fourth quarter alone. The reigning champions went on a 13-0 run in the final 5 minutes to reduce a 12-point deficit to a one-point lead.
Unfortunately for the LA Lakers, Tobias Harris hit the game-winner over Alex Caruso to win the game for the Philadelphia 76ers, 107-106.
NBA analyst Nick Wright had this to say about the game on the show, 'First Things First':
"Last night's game, the Lakers should leave it feeling the best they have felt at any point all seasona and the Sixers should leave it a little concerned. And it might sound odd because the the Sixers won it. But what you saw last night was the difference between a champion that knows it can win any game and a team that is figuring out who it is...in the final 3 minutes of the game, the Lakers got every single defensive stop, they got almost every loose ball..."
Although Philadelphia 76ers fans celebrated their team's victory, in the larger picture, they have to ask themselves if the franchise can pull off a win like that four times in seven games.
The LA Lakers showed their championship mettle in the final few minutes, and the Sixers had no answer until a game-winner by Harris.
What happens in a seven-game series?
As discussed earlier, the teams are fairly evenly matched. In an NBA Finals atmosphere, where every possession is on the line and the offense is mainly in a half-court setting, the game will eventually boil down to the stars and the individual matchups between them.
Assuming both teams are entirely healthy for the NBA Finals, the LA Lakers have more bodies to throw at Joel Embiid. They have Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and the recently acquired Andre Drummond.
The Lakers also have LeBron James and Montrezl Harrell. Although the two players aren't big enough to stand up to Embiid, they can certainly help off-ball, crowding the driving lanes and bothering the 76ers star enough to force a miss.
The LA Lakers' defense is expected to be top-notch, considering what we witnessed from Frank Vogel and his men in the 2020 NBA playoffs.
With the addition of Andre Drummond, the LA Lakers' rebounding woes are expected to come to an end.
Drummond is a beast when it comes to cleaning up the glass. He has a career average of nearly 14 rebounds per game and was leading the NBA in rebounding until he stopped playing in February. Drummond tips the scales in the LA Lakers' favor in the rebounding battle.
We should expect rather low-scoring games between the LA Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both teams are struggling from the three-point line and are the two best defensive teams in the league. In both encounters between them, the score didn't cross 109 points by either team, which is well below the league average.
The Philadelphia 76ers will need to upgrade their three-point shooting in order to win in a seven-game series against the LA Lakers. Ben Simmons isn't an outside threat, and if Embiid gets into foul trouble or gets double-teamed on most possessions, the games could be tough to win for them.
Betting oddsmakers favored the LA Lakers the first time the two sides met with healthy rosters. The Lakers were placed at -160 and the 76ers were placed at +135.
A potential NBA Finals Matchup between the Lakers and the 76ers sounds quite enticing. Although most of the matchups will be close, the reigning champions have a significant advantage going into the series.