THERE WAS the joy of history in the Wachovia Center last night, in the form of Julius Erving and Clint Richardson and memories of the 76ers' 1982-83 championship.
There was the anticipation of the moment, in the form of the annual visit of the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, the pride of Lower Merion High.
And there was more than a glimpse, albeit somewhat unexpected, of the future, in the form of the Lakers' angular, athletic, 7-foot, 20-year-old center.
The Sixers' future will have to wait.
The Lakers' future is a third-year man named Andrew Bynum, the youngest player ever selected in the NBA draft and the youngest ever to play in a regular-season game.
Part of the pregame hype of what became a 106-101 Lakers victory was that Bryant needed 39 points to reach a career total of 20,000. What was missed was that Bynum needed 16 to reach 1,000.
Bryant, bothered by a groin injury, shooting 6-for-20 and serving pretty much as a decoy and facilitator, scored 19, leaving him 20 shy. Bynum, on the other hand, scored a career-high 24, shooting 10-for-11 from the floor, getting all of his baskets on layups and dunks and dropping in his final nine.
"One of the things we talked about is trying to limit [Bynum's] drives to the rim," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "They swing the ball and have shooters spread around the floor. They have long guys who can put the ball on the floor, make plays inside the paint. They have a lot of guys that can handle the basketball."
The Sixers competed, driven early by Andre Miller (21 points, eight assists) and complemented by Andre Iguodala's 20 points and nine assists and Samuel Dalembert's 14 rebounds. But they couldn't overcome Bynum's scoring and 11 rebounds, Lamar Odom's 21 points and 11 rebounds, Derek Fisher's season-high 21 points and Bryant's seven assists. The Sixers also were missing Lou Williams, out with soreness in his big right toe.
In the end, the Sixers' interior defense was no match for the Lakers.
"[Bynum] did a good job getting to the basket when I helped out on a guard," Dalembert said. "We didn't do a good job on the weak side. [At some point], somebody has to foul him, make him make a move . . . This was one of the worst [interior defense] games we've had. Sorry to say, it was terrible. We couldn't stop anything. It wasn't like guys were killing us with post moves. It was simple things we couldn't stop."
Iguodala, who had problems of his own as he shot 7-for-21, said he wasn't surprised by Bynum.
"He's 7-foot, he gets up and down the floor, and he has some coordination," Iguodala said. "If you have some coordination and you're tall, you're going to have success in this league."
Bryant missed all five of his shots in the fourth quarter, but knocked down five critical free throws in the final 3:16.
"It was kind of a lethargic game, but we managed to turn it up when we needed to," Bryant said.
The Sixers defended Bryant at different times with Iguodala, Willie Green and Rodney Carney. Bryant chose not to force any issues, instead making sure various teammates got open looks or open lanes to the basket.
"We're using me more as a decoy right now, at this stage of the season," Bryant said. "Defenses are bent on denying me the ball, helping with the 1-2-3 guys."
This was an unusual setting for the Lakers' only visit. Even though the attendance was announced as 17,903, the usual local passion for serenading Bryant with boos and jeers was significantly less than usual.
"I'm always worried that he's coming back here and he's going to take too many shots, he's going to try and do too much on his own," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game. "I usually chide him before the game not to try to do too much, to stay within the system and do the things that flow naturally.
"I don't know [whether Bryant is motivated by coming home]. If I looked at the stats for his games here, I don't know what they'd stand up to be. There are some things, some pressure that falls to him naturally here."
With the Lakers now at 16-10, Bryant said: "I think we're doing extremely well. We've made the progression to being a solid team, a team that plays consistently well. Even when you have a bad game, you still have an opportunity to win. That's [the definition of] a solid team. So, now we've got to make the progression from being a solid team to jumping up to that elite level, and that's the hardest step of all." *