With the Los Angeles Lakers already in double digits at the end of the first quarter on Wednesday, LeBron James lowered his head and drove to the trophy to give the quarter break a little momentum.
On the sidelines, the huge Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers was waiting for him, knocking James away with a seemingly easy 2 and triggering a transition chance that former Lakers security guard Danny Green completed with a 3 from above to put Philly to 16.
It was the kind of sequence that could lead viewers to believe the Sixers are legitimate competitors this season.
There was the 7-foot, 280-pound MVP candidate in Embiid, who anchored Philadelphia’s top 5 defense and filled one of the greatest finishers in the game’s history in James – pitching its own MVP campaign – going to one led Fast-Break 3 by a three-time champion. Everyone, when the new coach of the 76ers with his own championship badges, Doc Rivers, was monitoring the action from the sidelines.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the night was just as dominant for the Sixers. LA used a 13-0 run towards the end of the fourth quarter to take the lead. 11.2 seconds left a handsome dish from James to a cutting Anthony Davis, and it looked like the Lakers could go on to maintain their perfect 10-0 start to the season. Philly responded, however, when Tobias Harris pulled up over Alex Caruso and won 107-106 with three seconds to go.
“They know what they’re looking for,” Lakers’ great man Marc Gasol told reporters at a video conference after the game, praising the direction the Sixers were taking. “I think all the players have accepted their roles and want to excel in them. They know what they want to live on offensively and what they want to live on defensively.”
Gasol, who entered the competition with a certain reputation as an Embiid stopper – the great Sixers man was only 3-5 in his career against Gasol before Wednesday, averaging 10.6 points at 30% shooting in those games – couldn’t ” The Process “don’t bother this time.
Embiid ended with 28 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Meanwhile, Gasol went ineffective, relinquishing 15 of those points while guarding Embiid as he walked 5-on-9 from the field and 4-on-5 from the foul line in possessions as the Lakers’ newly acquired starting center hired was defending him.
“They played him through and they played him through a lot and they will keep feeding him,” said Gasol. “It’s not like they go out and feed someone else. They know who they’re going to play through and how they’re going to play, and they’re comfortable with that.
“So we’ll take a look and get better.”
A win in January does not change the balance of power for the entire league. The Sixers have yet to prove to be better than the new big three of the Brooklyn Nets, the cohesive core of the Boston Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo – only to get out of the Eastern Conference.
But a rematch of the 2001 NBA Finals between LA and Philadelphia is certainly possible 20 years later.
Wednesday’s win gave the Sixers a 10-1 mark at home this season – they’re 41-5 at the Wells Fargo Center since last season – and improved their overall record to 13-6, the best in the East. Embiid plays the best basketball of his career. You have Ben Simmons, a sturdy defense attorney the size to molest James. Green, Harris and Seth Curry – who didn’t even play on Wednesday – consistently meet from the outside.
A lot still needs to happen before then, but it’s not far-fetched.
“I think it’s a really good team that they put together,” said James of the 76ers. “Give a lot of credit [general manager] Elton Brand and the things they do here. Obviously, Doc pretty much always won wherever he was. We’ll see how the season goes on. There will be a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference playing championship basketball on the track. I know you think you are one of those teams. “
Joel Embiid reacts to the 76ers’ 107-106 win against the Lakers on Wednesday and gives an update on his back after a serious fall.
The Lakers are already a proven contender as defending champions. Last year’s team, which has shown it can handle Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo on the way to the title, was one of the biggest teams in the league.
The Lakers switched in the off-season – they traded JaVale McGee for the Cleveland Cavaliers and had Dwight Howard sign as Embiid’s backup, replacing them with Gasol and Montrezl Harrell.
“We’re different,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel about the shift in the middle. “And different doesn’t have to be better or worse. I would like to believe that we are trying to be a better basketball team this year than we were when we won the championship last year.”
Whether these Lakers are better than the 2019-20 Lakers remains to be seen. Despite Wednesday’s result, they already believe they are better than the 2020-21 Sixers.
“I think our line-up and our group are very capable of beating this team in a seven-game series,” said Davis.