It’s hard to decipher if the 76ers are legitimate NBA title contenders or just pretenders.
They have the Eastern Conference’s best record (12-6), but the only team with a winning record they’ve beaten is the Boston Celtics. Last week’s two victories over the Celtics (10-6) came against a lineup missing their best player, third-team All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum.
In fact, the Sixers have had the league’s second-easiest schedule to date, so we’ll have a better idea of their talent level after Wednesday’s game against the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers will enter the Wells Fargo Center with the league’s best record of 14-4 (10-0 on the road) and two first-team All-NBA selections in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They are favored to repeat as champions after the offseason additions of Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, and Wesley Matthews.
“They have a lot of talented players, they had the best [offseason] of anyone, and they’re better than last year,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “That doesn’t mean they are going to win. It doesn’t mean they are going to win it. But they are better than last year, and so are a lot of teams. We’re better.”
For Sixers offseason acquisitions Danny Green and Dwight Howard, this contest will mark the first meeting against their former teammates. Green was a starting guard and Howard the backup center for last year’s champions. Seth Curry, who came from the Dallas Mavericks, is the Sixers’ other notable offseason acquisition.
Green, Curry, and Howard have all been welcomed additions. However, the Sixers are winless in the four games that Joel Embiid has missed, including Monday’s 119-104 road setback to the last-place Detroit Pistons which he sat out due to back stiffness. After Monday’s loss, Rivers said the Sixers will be ready to face the Lakers.
They better be, especially if James and Davis both play.
James (left ankle sprain) is listed as questionable for the game on Tuesday night’s NBA injury report. Davis is probable (right ankle bruise). Reserves Jared Dudley (sore right calf) and Kostas Antetokounmpo (right knee patellar tendinitis) are out.
Meanwhile, Curry (right ankle soreness) is listed as probable for the Sixers. Reserves Mike Scott (right knee swelling) and Vincent Poirier (health and safety protocols) remain sidelined.
But James and Davis are the league’s best tandem. In the Lakers’ 115-108 win Monday in Cleveland, James had a season-high 46 points as well as eight rebounds and six assists. The four-time MVP is averaging 25.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists at the age of 36. Davis, 27, is averaging 21.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.9 blocks.
The Sixers’ best chance to win falls on Embiid, who is expected to play. Embiid’s average of 31.8 points in five career games against the Lakers is his highest scoring average against any NBA team.
But Gasol’s presence may play a big factor Wednesday. Embiid had a night he would like to forget back on Nov. 25, 2019, when Gasol played for the Raptors. The Sixers’ three-time All-Star failed to score a point while missing all 11 shots and going 0-for-3 from the foul line in 32 minutes in the 101-96 loss in Toronto. In all, Embiid has shot just 30% in eight regular-season contests against Gasol, who played for Memphis before Toronto.
Embiid, among the league’s MVP front-runners, is averaging 27.7 points and 11.5 rebounds this season.
His performance Wednesday could go a long way toward his MVP bid and determining how good the Sixers are this season
Reed to play with Blue Coats
Two-way power forward Paul Reed will join the Sixers’ NBA G League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, in the bubble the league used last season in Kissimmee, Fla. The team leaves on Wednesday and the first game is scheduled for Feb. 11. Each team is guaranteed to play 15 games in the bubble. The Sixers selected Reed in the second round of November’s draft.