Mention the Sixers and the Lakers in the same breath, and the average fan will immediately conjure up images of a great decades-old rivalry. For older fans, they will probably recall the thrilling World Championship over Magic Johnson‘s Lakers in 1983, the last title time that this basketball team paraded down Broad Street with “Dr. J” Julius Erving and Moses Malone leading the way for head coach Billy Cunningham. Younger fans will think back to the 2001 NBA Finals, when Allen Iverson basically carried the team on his back to the finals against the Lakers of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, in a losing but valiant effort and unforgettable season under head coach Larry Brown.
Fast forward to 2013. As of this posting, both teams share a 17-25 record. The Lakers are 14.5 games out of first place in their division, the 76ers 9.5 out of theirs. Both teams seem to be spiraling into oblivion, with their identical, dismal records illustrating this point. What a change from the off-season, when 76ers fans were overjoyed at the deal which brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. Immediately we had our big man, and not just any run of the mill player, arguably the second best center in the game. The Lakers went on to more than make up for the loss of Bynum, with the mind-boggling acquisitions of both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard eliciting classic wails from NBA fans throughout the country of “the rich just get richer”. While 76ers fans were more than satisfied that their talented role players now had a center to build around, Lakers fans were basically declaring the season over and another title for Kobe was a mortal lock.
Not so fast. Who would have envisioned that as we pass the 40-game plateau of this NBA season, Andrew Bynum has yet to lace them up in Philadelphia due to a knee injury. Only this past week has there even been a glimmer of hope that Bynum will start seeing some action in a Sixers uniform at some point, whereas most of the season has been peppered with Chase-Utleyesque statements by the team such as “he’s progressing”, “he’s moving along”, and “no timetable for his return”…Should he actually get back on the hardwood, more time will then be needed to have him fit into Doug Collins‘ game plan, which will encompass even more of the season. The absence of a big man has been more than obvious, as the 76ers are routinely out-rebounded on a nightly basis. Their trademark defense, which was the hallmark of Doug Collins’ squad the past couple of seasons, has been sputtering as of late. They have dropped 19 of their last 26 games which have featured abysmal shooting, rare trips to the foul line and turnovers galore. The jovial mood that grasped Sixer Nation in the off-season and drove hundreds of fans to the Constitution Center to welcome Bynum to town has turned to negative indifference and hopelessness, embodied in Charles Barkley’s commentary a couple of nights ago that the 76ers season is pretty much over.
Then there are the Lakers. Mired in the same type of general funk as the 76ers, their slide has taken place despite a lineup composed of Kobe, Metta World Peace, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The Lakers are 26th in team defense despite that collection of superstars, and are on their second head coach this season in Mike D’Antoni. Players are now griping at each other in a not-so-quiet manner, most notable their two main stars Bryant and Howard. They recently lost their fourth straight game, this time to the Grizzlies, and numerous team meetings have done nothing to spark the club. Howard seems to be complaining about Kobe’s perceived bal-hogging to everyone on the team except Kobe himself, and Nash looks frighteningly out-of-place in every game they play. Weekly viewings of NBA games on TNT or ESPN usually involve an all-LA double-header with the Lakers being blown out, topped off by the Clippers laying a beat-down on yet another overmatched foe.
Another difference between the Lakers and the 76ers, which is still equating to the same mediocre result in the standings, is that one club cannot start strong while the other cannot finish. The 76ers are routinely horrific to open most of their games as far as shooting goes. The Lakers on the other hand usually come out of the gate strong then look tired and confused for most of the second half of their contests. Both styles are equally maddening to their respective head coaches and fans like, and are infuriating the fan base in both cities.
The current status of both the Lakers and the 76ers is a classic illustration of the unpredictability of pro sports. Moves and acquisitions look so stellar on paper, and the results seem like a given when big names are thrown into the mix. But forget the numbers, the intangibles are what end up dictating team fate. For the 76ers, the lack of chemistry without a talented big man has doomed their hopes, while the Lakers are being decimated by healthy big men and an MVP-level supporting cast that cannot figure out how to play together as a cohesive unit. It’s a far cry from 1983 and 2001 for these two long-time rivals, and the only question that remains is how low will each of them sink before righting their respective ships and averting a Titanic nightmare.Tags: Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers, losing, misery, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers, Steve Nash