Sixers vs. Lakers: To sweep or not to sweep?

June 05, 2001 6:58 AM
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The rested and perhaps rusty Los Angeles Lakers finally have an opponent against whom they can attempt to both defend their championship and make history. Following a grueling and often controversial seven game Eastern Conference finals, the Philadelphia 76ers used their home court in game seven to advance to the NBA Finals. Battered, bruised, fatigued but showing plenty of heart, Allen Iverson and teammates now face their final challenge of what has been a remarkable season as they seek to dethrone the playoff perfect Lakers. It won’t be easy.

The Lakers have cruised in the NBA Finals by winning all eleven of their Playoff games this season while extending their overall winning streak to 19. Los Angeles has not lost since a one point home loss to the New York Knicks on April Fool’s Day. Little did anyone realize at the time that the rest of the NBA would be played for fools by the Lakers, who to this point, was a team that had endured a much public feud involving their twin superstars of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. But they finally put it all together to make what has thus far been an unblemished run to end the season. Just four wins remain until either the heavily favored Lakers or their gutsy rivals, the 76ers, will be NBA Champions.

The Lakers have been installed as not just 12-point favorites in game one, but as 1-20 favorites to win the series. Some books put up odds on whether the Lakers will complete their improbable assault on history and win four straight. Based upon how easily the Lakers dispatched San Antonio, it’s hard to argue against it. But note the Lakers did not exactly blow out Sacramento in each of their four wins in that series. The 76ers have shown that they can respond to a challenge in a tight game. Being battle tested, as it were, will be an edge for Philadelphia. The Lakers have not faced such adversity in some time.

The 12-point line in game one is just too high and the points are worth taking with Philadelphia. Regardless of the result of the first game, if the Sixers are again getting double digits they would be the play in game two. The true line in these games in Los Angeles should be around eight, much as the games were last year against Indiana. As far as a sweep is concerned, Philadelphia has shown so much heart in dealing with the numerous injuries they’ve had to endure, not just all season but also in the Playoffs, that it’s quite likely they’ll win at least one game, perhaps game three back at home. Look for the Lakers to win the series in five games, but for Philadelphia to emerge with the better pointspread record.

Part of the reason the Lakers have been so dominant has been their effort on defense. Thus, we’d expect there to be more unders than overs in this series, especially the first two games.

Next week, following game three, we may have to reassess our thinking, as it’s quite possible the Lakers will be on the verge of a sweep. Certainly Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and teammates have the talent and motivation to go the limit. But Allen Iverson has proven himself to be a great floor leader as well, sacrificing his body against guys who outweigh him by more than one hundred pounds. That effort is not overlooked by his teammates. While it’s virtually impossible to expect the Sixers to pull an upset of Buster Douglas proportions, we can see their hard work and tenacious play deserving of and resulting in at least one win in the series.

NBA FINALS ODDS
Los Angeles Lakers - 2000
Philadelphia 76ers +1400
Lakers sweep: -120
Lakers in five: +140
Lakers in six: 5-2
Lakers in seven: 7-1
76ers sweep: 200-1
76ers in five: 60-1
76ers in six: 50-1
76ers in seven: 35-1