(CBS) – The Los Angeles Lakers are slowly becoming more offensively efficient as they progress through their road trip. That should be tested against an improving Philadelphia 76ers’ club that has held its last three opponents below 40 percent shooting.
These teams are on three-game win streaks entering Friday night’s matchup in Philadelphia, where the Lakers have won their last three visits.
Los Angeles (19-7) began this seven-game road stretch with its two worst offensive efforts, averaging 85.5 points in splitting games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago. The Lakers have increased their output in the three games since, winning 109-94 at Indiana on Wednesday.
They shot 51.2 percent from the field and had 25 assists, both their best totals during the trip.
“We played with more energy, and a more focused game, and with more of a sense of urgency,” said Kobe Bryant about avenging an earlier loss to the Pacers.
Philadelphia (10-15) is eager for the opportunity to test itself against Los Angeles after three straight efforts that pleased new coach Doug Collins. The 76ers had held an opponent below 40 percent twice in their first 22 games before this run.
Collins knows that a similar effort won’t come easy Friday.
“Two-time defending champions, Kobe coming home,” Collins said. “They’re going to be a handful, to say the least. Pau Gasol, the most skilled big man in the NBA now in my estimation in terms of just skill in the post.”
Gasol had 28 points Wednesday for his highest point total in his last 12 games. He combined for 31 points in his previous two games.
“Just played more aggressive, more assertive,” said Gasol, who has double-doubles in six of his last seven games against the 76ers. “Just tried to attack more and it made a difference.”
Bryant, born in Philadelphia, made 11 of 18 shots (61.1) for his best shooting performance of the season. He is bidding to shoot over 60 percent in consecutive regular-season games for the first time since Feb. 22-24, 2009.
Philadelphia led by as many as 20 in Wednesday’s 105-91 win over the Clippers. Jrue Holiday led five players in double figures with 24 points while Andre Iguodala added 20 as the 76ers finished with 21 fast-break points.
The Lakers have won seven of their last nine against the Sixers, who are looking forward to the challenge.
“They have been playing a little better as of late, but before that, it hadn’t been that great for them,” forward Elton Brand said. “We just have to have one of our best efforts.”
The Lakers acquired veteran forward Joe Smith on Wednesday in a three-team trade. The frontcourt already has been bolstered by the return of Andrew Bynum, who has logged 17 minutes the last two games after missing the first 24 with a partially torn ligament in his right knee.
Collins will reunite with Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who replaced him as Bulls coach before the 1989-90 season.
“I think in our hearts we have to come in here and believe we can beat the Lakers,” Collins said. “Now whether or not we can, I don’t know but I know our guys are gonna compete.”
Updated December 16, 2010
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