The Los Angeles Lakers are slowly starting to resemble the team most thought they would be after headline-grabbing offseason acquisitions. The Philadelphia 76ers, conversely, are fading fast after a solid start.
The Lakers seek their seventh win in eight games and their fourth straight at home on Tuesday night when they face the road-weary 76ers.
After adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, Los Angeles' expectations were lofty enough to send coach Mike Brown packing after a 1-4 start. Things initially didn't go much better for new coach Mike D'Antoni, who started off 4-9.
But with the Lakers' once stagnant offense gaining more fluidity, they are 6-1 since. Los Angeles (15-15) is averaging 107.1 points per game during that stretch.
The last four have seen Nash back from a seven-week absence due to a small fracture in his leg. He is averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 assists with 2.5 turnovers since returning.
Los Angeles is averaging 21.4 assists on the season, but 28.3 over the last four games with Nash on the court. He recorded 10 assists in 27 minutes in a 104-87 rout of Portland on Friday.
Howard also has five double-doubles in the team's last seven games and is averaging 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots on the season.
"We're obviously still a new team," Nash said. "It's new to me. I'm new to the offense. We're trying to figure it out. I think we're growing more and more cohesive, but I've got a long way to go."
Kobe Bryant attributed the victory to the team's improved energy. Los Angeles matched a season high with 23 fast-break points.
"It was just energy," said Bryant, whose streak of 10 games with at least 30 points was snapped as he scored 27 in a season-low 30:40. His 30.1 scoring average still leads the league.
"We're playing really well. We've just got to keep it going."
The Lakers should soon find out exactly how much they've improved recently after Tuesday's game. Their next five games include matchups with the Clippers, Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, teams with a combined 108-49 record.
Philadelphia (14-17) started the season 12-9, even without former Laker Andrew Bynum, but has lost two straight and eight of 10 after Saturday's 89-85 defeat at Portland. The 76ers also have dropped eight of nine on the road, which isn't promising with Tuesday's game being only the fifth of a season-high eight-game trip.
They actually outscored the Trail Blazers through the final three quarters, but a 30-23 deficit after the first had them climbing uphill for the game's remainder.
"We have to have a game where we're the team that jumps on early and survives a couple runs," Spencer Hawes said. "It takes more energy to be on the bottom side of a run trying to come back than it does to hold it."
Jrue Holiday continues to be a bright spot for the 76ers with career highs in points (18.6) and assists (8.9). The UCLA product missed the teams' first meeting in Philadelphia on Dec. 16 because of a left foot sprain. Nick Young scored a season-high 30 on 6-of-12 3-point shooting while Bryant had 34 in the Lakers' 111-98 victory.
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