Wednesday, with the Los Angeles Lakers already trailing by two scores at the end of the first quarter, LeBron James lowered his head and went to the cup to regain some momentum before the quarter break.
Philadelphia 76ers goalie Joel Embiid was waiting for him at the basket. He intercepted a seemingly easy 2 for James and forced former Lakers goalie Danny Green to finish it off with a 3 from the top of the key to give Philadelphia a 16-point lead.
That’s the kind of consistency that could make viewers believe the Sixers are legitimate contenders this season.
Embiid, a 6-foot-8, 80-pound MVP candidate, was the backbone of Philadelphia’s defense and gave James one of the best performances in the history of the game – kicking off his own MVP campaign – allowing him to quickly outrun the three-time champion. The 76ers’ new coach, Doc Rivers, who won the championship, watched the game from the sidelines.
The Sixers outscored the Lakers 13-0 at the end of the game to win by one point. Bill Streicher’s Sports Day takes place today in the United States.
Of course, that’s not to say the rest of the night was as dominant for the Sixers. Los Angeles took advantage of a 13-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead 11.2 seconds from the end on a nice pass from James to Anthony Davis and it looks like the Lakers can continue their perfect start to the season with a 10-0 run. Philadelphia answered, however, as Tobias Harris hit a jumper over Alex Caruso three seconds before the end for the 107-106 victory.
They know what they’re looking for, Lakers top executive Marc Gasol told reporters via video conference after the game, praising the Sixers’ leadership. I think all the actors have accepted their roles and want to excel in them. They know what they want to shape up offensively and defensively.
Gasol, who entered the game with a poor record as a stopper for Embiid – the Sixers’ top man had scored just 3-5 in his career against Gasol before Wednesday, averaging 10.6 points on a 30% shooting percentage in those games – couldn’t disrupt the process this time around.
Embiid finished the game with 28 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Basol, meanwhile, was ineffective, giving up 15 of those points to Embiid as he hit 5 of 9 from the field and 4 of 5 from the foul line as the Lakers’ new starting center had to hold him down.
They have played through him, and they have played through him a lot, and they will continue to feed him, Gasol said. It’s not like they’re going to feed someone else. They know who they are going to play against and how they are going to play, and they feel good about that.
So you look at it and you feel better.
A win in January does not change the balance of power in the league. The Sixers have yet to prove they are better than the new Big Three of the Brooklyn Nets, the connecting core of the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo – just to get out of the Eastern Conference.
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But a revenge of the 2001 NBA Finals between Los Angeles and Philadelphia is a real possibility 20 years later.
Wednesday’s win gives the Sixers a 10-1 season record – they’re now 41-5 at the Wells Fargo Center since the start of last season – and improves their overall record to 13-6, the best in the East. They made Embiid play the best basketball of his career. They have Ben Simmons, a reliable defender with the size of James. Green, Harris and Seth Curry, who didn’t even play well Wednesday despite scoring 3-50% this year, are hitting regularly from outside.
There will still be a lot to do, but it’s not that far fetched.
I think it’s a really good team they’ve put together, James said of the 76ers. Congratulations to Elton Brand and what they’re doing here. Clearly, the Doctor has always won, wherever he is. We’ll see how the season goes. Many Eastern Conference teams will play championship basketball in the future. I know they think they’re part of these teams.
The Lakers are already a proven opponent as title contenders. However, last year’s team, which proved its ability to play against Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo on its way to the title, was one of the biggest teams in the league.
The Lakers changed in the offseason when they traded JaVale McGee to the Cleveland Cavaliers and contracted Dwight Howard Embiid to replace them with Gasol and Montrezl Harrell.
We’re different, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of the change in position at center. And the difference should not mean the best or the worst. I like to think that this year we are trying to be a better basketball team than last year when we won the championship.
It remains to be seen if these Lakers are better than the 2019-20 Lakers. Despite Wednesday’s results, they already think they’re better than the 2020-21 Sixers.
I think our team and the group we have is very capable of beating this team in a seven-game series, Davis said.
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