For the second time in three weeks, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are set to go to battle.
During their first bout of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, L.A. emerged victorious by a score of 111-98. Playing his hometown of Philadelphia, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 34 points.
This time around, it's the Sixers that are looking to earn a victory on an opponent's home court.
Since the two teams first played, the Lakers have won four of their past five games. The Sixers have lost five of their past seven.
With a chance to create momentum on the first day of 2013, who will seize the opportunity?
Time: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: TWC Sports Net & CSN Philadelphia
Records: Philadelphia 76ers (14-17) at Los Angeles Lakers (15-15)
Betting Line: Philadelphia 76ers 76ers (+9) at Los Angeles Lakers (-9) (via OddsShark.com)
Injuries: Steve Blake, Abdominal Strain; Andrew Bynum, Knee; Chris Duhon, Back Spasms; Pau Gasol, Plantar Fasciitis
Key Storyline: The Fight to Top .500
Should the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Philadelphia 76ers on New Year's Day, they would top .500 for the first time since November 20, 2012. They were 6-5 at that time.
Who would have thought that it'd take 31 games for the Lakers to rise above .500?
Fortunately for L.A., they are finally at full strength. Steve Nash is back in the rotation, Pau Gasol is fighting off a foot injury and the starting lineup is now intact.
The Sixers are a different story.
Philadelphia remains without franchise center Andrew Bynum. Bynum, an ex-Laker, is still without a timetable for his return (via Philly Burbs).
During a season in which victories have come rather inconsistently, starting 2013 with a win is imperative for both sides. For L.A., it is a step toward championship contention.
For Philadelphia, it is a sign of life without Bynum.
Both teams have postseason implications on the line. So who will start 2013 in a favorable manner?
Key Matchup: Pau Gasol vs. Thaddeus Young
One might speculate that the key matchup will be Kobe Bryant and whomever is assigned to defend and score against him. The fact of the matter is the Sixers aren't going to win a shootout with Kobe.
They'll need to capitalize on their advantages, such as power forward.
Thaddeus Young is one of the most athletic players in the league. He's also one of the most versatile defenders, as he can smother a perimeter scorer or shut down an interior big.
That said, it is on offense where he is needed most.
If Young can pull Pau Gasol out of position, the lanes will open up for slashers to attack. In turn, the Sixers can become the umpteenth team to get Dwight Howard in foul trouble in 2012-13.
As for Gasol, it is imperative that he maintains the proper balance on defense. Young is as explosive as they come and will drive from the perimeter into the lane.
He'll also rise up and finish, which is why Gasol must force him into utilizing his mediocre jump shot.
If Gasol can neutralize Young's offensive impact, the Lakers will take this one handily. If Young is able to get something going, however, Philly has a fighting chance.
Whichever team wins this battle will win the game.
X-Factor: Jrue Holiday
Thus far in 2012-13, Jrue Holiday is quietly posting All-NBA caliber averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals. During the first game between Philly and the Lakers, however, Holiday was absent due to injury.
The California native could be the difference this time around.
Most recently, Holiday dropped 29 points, nine assists and nine rebounds on Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Matched up against the defensively challenged Steve Nash, we could see an even greater output.
Perhaps a full-on triple-double.
Should Holiday fail to produce, however, the 76ers are likely to face the same outcome as the previous time. A defeat which was not quite as close as the 111-98 final score made it seem.
With L.A. possessing two elite bigs, it will be on Holiday to spread the floor.
Los Angeles Lakers depth chart via ESPN.com.
Philadelphia 76ers depth chart via ESPN.com.
The Los Angeles Lakers have won six of seven. The Philadelphia 76ers have lost 11 of their past 15 games.
Who will win?
Considering the Lakers have the more complete roster, we'll go with the hot hand over the ice cold Sixers.
Kobe Bryant always has a point to prove against his hometown team, as they passed on him during the 1996 NBA draft for Allen Iverson. Having scored at least 27 points in 14 straight games, expect Kobe to make his point clear.
No one on the Sixers can defend him.
As for Philadelphia, they lack the frontcourt power to compete with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes are disturbingly underrated, but they also lack the quality reserves behind them.
Without depth at the 4 and 5 spots, Philly will be at a loss. Their 12th loss in 16 games.
Los Angeles Lakers 104, Philadelphia 76ers 97