More energy buzzed through the Wachovia Center last night than in any other game this season.
The only problem for the 76ers was that the added energy came from purple-and-yellow-clad fans of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Many of them wore Kobe Bryant jerseys. And Bryant, the former Lower Merion standout and international superstar, did not disappoint. He scored 32 points as his Lakers won, 114-102.
Compounding the loss for the Sixers, power forward Elton Brand suffered a strained right hamstring.
Each time Bryant touched the basketball, he was greeted by a divided Wachovia Center: boos from a few fans, some passionate cheering by others, and those caught between.
"A lot of Lower Merion alums, we're deep," joked Bryant, explaining the increased fan base. "Normally when I come to Philly, I go get a cheesesteak and drive around the old neighborhood, stuff like that. . . . But I just zeroed in on the game."
"He controls the game the way he likes to, posting shots and getting to the rim," said Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks.
While Bryant provided the superstar tension last night, the Sixers' main man - Brand - strained his hamstring midway through the fourth quarter, according to the team.
Brand quietly disappeared to the end of the bench with a towel around his neck. Although the team said he was hurt in the fourth period, he sat from the 4-minute, 49-second mark of the third quarter until the end of the game.
Brand will be evaluated today, the team said. He finished with three points on 1-for-7 shooting.
The game did not end in a blowout, as it appeared it might when the Lakers led by 15 a few minutes before halftime.
Point guard Andre Miller and swingman Andre Iguodala combined for 31 first-half points, and the Sixers pulled to within six midway through the third quarter.
But with two minutes left in the third, Bryant deflected a Sixers pass, chased the ball to the far left corner, and made a three-pointer for an 83-64 lead.
"They made tough shots," Iguodala said. "They were hitting from all corners."
Bryant held his follow-through, bounced on his toes, and turned to look at the Lakers faithful sprinkled among the Philly fans.
After Bryant's trey, the Lakers, like the heavyweight fighters they are, kept the Sixers at arms' length during the fourth quarter.
"That's a team that's going to try to make a push for the championship," Miller said.
The loss was the Sixers' fifth in six games and dropped their record to 8-11. Tomorrow, they will play at Detroit, the new home of former Sixers guard Allen Iverson.
Last night, the Sixers started strong, grabbing leads of 12-3 and 17-7. Then the Lakers went on a 35-12 run.
Miller finished with 26 points and Iguodala 19. For the second straight game, Miller led the Sixers in shots. He was 11 for 21 last night.
The Lakers' complementary players, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, scored 22 and 18 points, respectively.
Cheeks played guard Royal Ivey, who has been used sparingly this season but more of late, for 15 minutes, many of which were spent trying to guard Bryant.
With just under a minute left, Bryant was whistled for his fourth foul. Many in attendance used the opportunity to heckle Bryant as they filed out of the Wachovia Center.