THE WELLS FARGO Center hasn't been as loud during a basketball game as it was last night since Allen Iverson made his return to the Sixers on Dec. 7 of last season.
The sellout crowd was boisterous when local star Kobe Bryant was introduced in the Lakers' starting lineup, raised it up a notch when Phillies Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins were introduced in the stands, then proceeded to get deliriously crazy when Eagles quarterback Mike Vick entered the northwest part of the arena at court level late in the third quarter and walked around the court to take his seat with teammate DeSean Jackson.
Soon after, chants of "MVP, MVP, MVP" filled the air, then the Eagles fight song played over the sound system, followed by the customary "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant.
At that point, the Sixers were holding a six-point lead on the defending NBA champs, courtesy of a stifling defense and solid play from center Spencer Hawes.
Perhaps all the hoopla surrounding Vick made the Lakers feel at home. After all, when you play in front of Jack Nicholson and the likes every home game, a Mike Vick sighting is small potatoes.
After all the commotion involving Vick's presence, the Lakers scored 25 of the next 30 points and wound up rolling to a 93-81 win over the feisty Sixers.
On a night when Bryant wasn't his normal spectacular self (nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in 30 minutes), the Lakers actually did most of their damage when Bryant was on the pine. Matt Barnes was key for the Lakers off the bench, supplying 15 points and 10 rebounds and the big guys inside did the rest. Lamar Odom went off for 28 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and Pau Gasol collected 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"It's tough, they have a lot of talent on that team," said Elton Brand, limited to eight points and eight rebounds. "The end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, that really hurt us. We had a little lead and then Lamar went back-to-back and-ones and then Barnes hit a three and that kind of separated them."
The separation between the two teams, obviously, is more than just some baskets and ensuing foul shots or even big runs. The Lakers are a premier team, playing out the season and garnering wins to secure a high playoff spot for what will undoubtedly be another long run there. The Sixers are a team trying to find out just who they are and how they fit together. They've gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season, but need Herculean efforts from just about everyone to overcome the likes of the Lakers.
While Brand and Hawes (18 points, 13 rebounds, five assists) battled the gigantic Lakers, they got no help offensively from the perimeter players. Starting guards Jodie Meeks and Jrue Holiday shot a combined 4-for-22 and sub Lou Williams made just three of 10. Swingman Andres Nocioni, who was the first sub off the bench and saw his first action in four games, missed six of his eight shots.
The Sixers opened the game missing their first 11 shots, but were helped that the Lakers didn't score on their first five possessions either.
"We couldn't make a shot," said coach Doug Collins. "We knew that we had to make shots because the Lakers pack the paint. That's why I put Noc in. I thought he could give us another shooter on the floor. He got some great shots but couldn't knock them down. We were 3-for-21 from three. It's kind of tough to beat the Lakers when you can't make those kinds of shots."
Bryant wasn't making his, either, and spent much of the beginning of the second quarter on the bench. While he was there, he was having his right pinky taped and re-taped. He injured the finger in the first quarter and had it X-rayed after the game.
While Bryant was being tended to, the Lakers went on an 11-2 run.
"It's sore," said Bryant of his smallest finger. "It was hard to hold the basketball."
Hard to believe that it has been 15 years since Bryant started his senior year of basketball at Lower Merion High School. You could say Bryant's been a little busy since lacing 'em up for the Aces, and taking pop-star Brandy to his senior prom: five world titles, two Finals MVP, a league MVP, Olympic gold medal, 12-time All-Star, eight-time all-NBA first-teamer, eight-time all-defensive first team. The list goes on and on.
And so does Bryant.
Now a grizzled vet who is going through the rigors of an NBA season for the 15th time, Bryant's game has changed little, his aura not at all. Last night, he wasn't needed as a scorer, and, basically, was a decoy for coach Phil Jackson. But at this point in his career, winning is really all that matters.
"The Lakers have another gear that we don't have," Collins said. "They put [Derek Fisher] on [Meeks] because they knew he wouldn't roam, that Fish would stay attached. I've known Phil forever and I know what he does. He picks out a couple of guys that he thinks he can take out of the game. Tonight, he targeted Lou with [Steve] Blake and Thad [Young] with Barnes. We're disappointed, not discouraged."
And after Hawes and Andre Iguodala (18 points, six assists and six rebounds), the Sixers didn't get much from anyone else.
"It was just one of those nights," said Williams. "We got a lot of open looks, myself, Jrue and Jodie. We just didn't make our share."
And the crowd of 20,366 was more than ready for them to do so, particularly after the appearance of Vick.
"I thought that was when I stood up," joked Collins of the standing ovation. "That was for Vick? That's discouraging."
Rookie Evan Turner was a DNP for the first time in his career . . . The Sixers play the next eight on the road, starting tonight in Orlando (CSN, WIP (610-AM) . . . It was just the 73rd time in 1,048 games that Kobe Bryant failed to score in double figures, and the first time this season . . . Spencer Hawes had his left ankle X-rayed after the game after turning it in the third quarter. The X-rays were negative and he is expected to play tonight.
For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at
Follow him on Twitter at