The Sixers must learn how to be a consistent winner.
Several times this season, the Sixers' inability to close out games cost them a chance at a victory. Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers gave a clinic on how to finish strong, scoring 35 points in the 4th quarter en route to their 93-81 victory over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Despite an off-night by Kobe Bryant, who scored only 9 points on 3-for-11 shooting, the Lakers turned on their championship form when they needed to, ripping off a 27-6 run that began late in the 3rd quarter to put the game out of reach.
"They cranked it up a little bit on us," said Sixers' coach Doug Collins following the game. "That's what championship teams do. That's what we aspire to do."
One day after Lower Merion dedicated a new gymnasium in Bryant's honor, the Sixers almost put up enough bricks to build a new gym themselves. In front of their second capacity crowd of the season (the home opener was a sellout as well), the Sixers missed their first 11 shots of the game.
Fortunately for them, the Lakers didn't score on their first few possessions either. After Sixers' center Spencer Hawes provided the first points for his team nearly five and a half minutes into the game, the team finished the period strong and wound up leading the Lakers 21-18 after the first quarter.
The energy in the building was palpable, and it clearly buoyed the Sixers after their slow start. The 18 first quarter points for the Lakers were the fewest they've scored in the first period of any game all season.
The Sixers kept it close for the majority of the first three quarters, despite the fact that their starting backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks went scoreless in the first half. Holiday and Meeks finished the game with 12 points on 4-for-22 shooting (18 percent).
Their performance, or lack thereof, was nearly offset by the brilliant play of Hawes. It almost sounds like the proverbial broken record, but once again, Hawes continues to improve every time he steps out onto the court. In addition to his solid defense against the Lakers' big men, he filled the stat sheet last night with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists.
The performance of the night, however, clearly belonged to Lakers' forward Lamar Odom. Picking up the slack from Bryant - who sprained his right pinky finger early in the game - Odom scored a season-high 28 points to go along with 8 rebounds.
In the Sixers' defense, players like Odom and Lakers' forward Pau Gasol present a difficult matchup for pretty much any team. So despite the marked improvement they've made since the beginning of the season, they'd have to play nearly flawless basketball to pull out a victory against the two-time defending champions.
Despite all of the excitement in the actual game, the biggest cheers came when Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick and his fiancee showed up late in the 3rd quarter, much to the delight of the 20,366 in attendance. Chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" rained down upon Vick, who was given his courtside seats by Laker Matt Barnes.
It should be noted that last night's game marked the first DNP-CD (Did Not Play - Coach's Decision) in the brief career of Evan Turner. Andres Nocioni - who hadn't played in the previous three games - got the bulk of the minutes that typically go to Turner, presumably because Nocioni's shooting prowess gives the Sixers better flexibility on the offensive end.
After yesterday's game, the Sixers don't play at home again until January 5. Tonight's game in Orlando is the start of an 8-game road trip, with many of the matchups against the class of the NBA.
Games against the Magic, Bulls, Celtics, Lakers and Hornets will quickly test the character of this young team. But if they can play the way they have been over the past couple of weeks, don't be surprised if they return to the Wells Fargo Center a far better team than they were when they left.