The next game for the 76ers is not just another in a seemingly endless line of 82 NBA contests. On Friday at 7 p.m., they will face the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers seem genuinely excited about playing the two-time defending NBA champions.
The Lakers have an aura that gives a regular-season game a postseason feel. After Wednesday's 105-91 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sixers were excited to find out that coach Doug Collins had given them Thursday off. Then they wanted to talk about facing the Lakers.
"We're confident," said forward Elton Brand, who is averaging 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds to lead the Sixers in both categories. "The building will be rocking, it's Friday night, and we're excited to really test ourselves again."
The way the Sixers are playing, it's possible that the Lakers (19-7) will also be tested. Like the Lakers, the 10-15 Sixers have won three in a row.
The Sixers have won five of their last six and seven of nine.
"We're eager to play the two-time defending champs," Brand said.
Teams shouldn't be too eager. After a rough stretch that included four consecutive losses, the Lakers have won six of seven.
How rare is it for them to lose four in a row?
Coach Phil Jackson, who has guided the Chicago Bulls and Lakers to a combined 11 NBA titles, never lost four in a row in any year he won the championship.
Bryant, who is averaging 26.7 points and just 33 minutes per game, remains at the top of his game. It's hard to believe that the 32-year-old Bryant is now in his 15th NBA season since entering the league directly out of Lower Merion High.
"We know who their go-to guy is, and he's a monster," said Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala, who tweaked his Achilles tendon in the win over the Clippers but expressed optimism that he would be ready for the Lakers.
Collins praised Bryant's backcourt mate, Derek Fisher, who is averaging 7.4 points per game and owns five championship rings with the Lakers, like Bryant.
"They have a Hall of Fame coach with 11 rings, but to me, the guy who was such a big pickup when they started winning championships was Derek Fisher," Collins said. "To me, he's one of the best leaders in sport on any team. . . . When Kobe is out there with Derek Fisher, I think he feels like he has a guy beside him and they won't lose."
Collins called Lakers power forward/center Pau Gasol "the most skilled big man in the NBA," and said that forward Lamar Odom was among the most versatile.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum returned to the lineup Tuesday for the first time after knee surgery. Bynum has played in two games this season. The Lakers are coming off a 109-94 win Wednesday in Indiana.
After Friday, the Sixers will play their next eight games on the road, starting Saturday in Orlando.