76ers guard Jrue Holiday, driving past Warriors guard Stephen Curry last… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)
The Lakers (15-15) host the Philadelphia 76ers (14-17) on New Year's Day at Staples Center. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.
After a tumultuous start to the 2012-13 season, the Lakers finished December by winning six of seven games, bolstered by the returns of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol from injury. The Sixers are still waiting for Andrew Bynum to make his season debut; he is nursing knee issues that still have him without a time line for return.
The two teams met in Philadelphia on Dec. 16 when Nash and Gasol were out of the lineup, but the Sixers were without point guard Jrue Holiday. Kobe Bryant (34 points) led all scorers in the Lakers' 111-98 victory. Nick Young poured in 30 for the 76ers.
While Philadelphia will be a tougher opponent with Holiday healthy, the Lakers should have the advantage with their full roster and three days of rest.
Given that neither team had its starting point guard in the last meeting, Tuesday's game should have a different flavor. The Lakers are dramatically better with Nash, who expertly orchestrates the offense while shooting a high percentage from the field.
Nash doesn't need a big-scoring night for the Lakers to win. It's his assist numbers (9.5 a game since his return) that have made the biggest impact.
Holiday is Philadelphia's leading scorer at 18.6 points per game. He's also their top playmaker with 8.9 assists nightly. Naturally, the Sixers felt that loss when Holiday sat out with a foot injury, and they'll be more formidable an opponent now that he's healthy.
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni has asked second-year guard Darius Morris to take on the opponents' best perimeter player. Expect Morris to start at shooting guard, assigned to defend Holiday. If Morris can help save Nash's legs while making Holiday work for his points and assists, the Lakers should have the advantage.
Morris is still a young, developing player. The results with him in the lineup have been mixed but he did an excellent job on Portland's Damian Lillard in the Lakers' recent victory over the Blazers.
Young, whenever and wherever he plays, is the X-factor. He's capable of a huge scoring night, as the Lakers saw in their last meeting. Clippers fans are well aware of Young and the quick trigger on his jumper as he helped save the Clippers more than once in the postseason.
The Sixers are a dangerous team but they've struggled recently. They've dipped to ninth place in the Eastern Conference and are feeling desperate for a win.
The Lakers have been desperate for weeks now. With the extra few days of rest, the Lakers should be able to handle Philadelphia.