Here is what you need to know before the Lakers tip off their road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers.
1) This will be a battle between some of the rookie class’ best
Ben Simmons may be the clear Rookie of the Year frontrunner at this point in the season, but there are two guys in Los Angeles who have made an immediate impact on the Lakers.
Let’s start with Simmons, who has made the loss of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz palatable for Sixers fans by leading all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals. He even ranks among the entire NBA’s top five in those last two categories.
Philadelphia’s offense revolves around Simmons, who averages the most touches in the whole league. Often he’ll use those opportunities to drive into the lane, where he uses his speed, strength and ability to create angles.
From there he’s liable to power through for a dunk, hit a tough layup or find a cutter on the weak side.
Meanwhile, Kuzma wields similarly impressive driving capabilities. The difference is that Kuzma is much more of a pure scorer when slashing to the rim, as he has shot a ridiculous 28-of-42 on drives.
Then there is Ball, who already ranks among the NBA’s top 10 in assists, grabs the third-most rebounds among guards and plays effective defense.
Of course, the major blemish on Ball’s rookie season has been his shooting (31.3 percent from the field). Calf soreness limited him in Monday’s loss to Houston, but he had found a rhythm with his shot in the two games before. Keep an eye on how he responds in Philly.
2) Joel Embiid might not be human
The Lakers face one of their toughest individual matchups of the season in this rematch with Joel Embiid, who went volcanic for 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks at STAPLES Center three weeks ago.
Even when ignoring his brilliant rebounding, passing and defense, Embiid still put up the most points by a Sixers since Allen Iverson 11 years prior.
It’s going to take a team effort to prevent Embiid from having another monster outing. The Lakers used all three rotation centers against him in their first meeting to varying degrees of effectiveness.
Possibly the best post-up player in the NBA, Embiid thrived against small-ball center Julius Randle. The 6-foot-9 big has been the Lakers’ best defender this year but gives up five inches to Embiid, who broke out just about every post move in his arsenal at Randle’s expense.
Seven-footers Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut fared better thanks to their size, but Embiid still got buckets against them with his mid-range jumper, pick-and-roll game and ability to draw fouls (16-of-19 free throws).
The Lakers’ bigs will need to be nearly perfect defensively against one of the league’s most unique players who can body players inside, hit shots from the perimeter and even break out a Eurostep.
The common thread during the Lakers’ five-game losing streak has been an inability to protect the ball. In each of these losses they have committed at least 16 turnovers, inflating their season average to a league-high 17.5 per game.
The issue has been a contagious one for the Lakers, who have zero players among the NBA’s top 25 in individual turnovers, but have four giving the ball away between two and three times a game.
Coach Luke Walton has had to implement drills that his players have joked are from high school. These include punishment runs for each turnover committed at practice.
Walton hopes this can help alleviate a defect in his team’s greatest offensive strength.
The Lakers push the pace faster than any team in the league, resulting in the NBA’s second-most fast-break points (15.3).
However, 18.1 percent of their transition possessions end in turnovers — the third-highest mark in the league — meaning there is plenty more scoring left untapped.
Cleaning up this habit of giving the ball away would be a huge stimulus to the offense as a whole.
76ers: Dario Saric (left eye laceration/corneal abrasion, right eye) and T.J. McConnell (sprained AC joint, left shoulder) are questionable. Justin Anderson (tibial stress syndrome/shin splints, left leg), Markelle Fultz (right shoulder soreness/scapular muscle imbalance), James Michael McAdoo (G League assignment) and Jacob Pullen (G League assignment) are out.
Tip-Off: 5 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes in L.A. TNT nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Location: Wells Fargo Center — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania