LOS ANGELES — Wednesday night’s 76ers-Lakers game at Crypto.com Arena will not feature a matchup between the NBA’s top two scorers after the Lakers announced LeBron James will not play because of left knee soreness.
James, who entered Wednesday leading the NBA with 30.0 points per game and recently became the league’s second all-time leading scorer, also missed the first Sixers-Lakers matchup in late January in Philly with the same ailment. The Sixers won that game, 105-87. Embiid entered Wednesday ranked just behind James in scoring at 29.8 points per game.
Lakers star Anthony Davis (foot sprain) also remains out, while Talen Horton-Tucker is still listed as questionable with a sprained left ankle.
No Sixers are listed on the injury report after stars Embiid and James Harden both sat out Monday’s home win against the Miami Heat. Rookies Charles Bassey, Jaden Springer and Myles Powell are currently with the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats.
Before the game, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said he feels “awful” for fans in the arena who don’t get to watch superstars play.
“I guarantee you there’s someone tonight that it’s their first time ever coming to a Laker game,” Rivers said, “and clearly — at least if he’s smart — he’s coming to see LeBron play, right? And he’s not there. We’ve had games the same way in Philly. But we also always have to side with health.
“If you’re a fan of that team and your players stay healthy in the long run, it’ll pay off probably more in that way. I guess that’s one way you can look at it, but there’s no winning there. There just isn’t.”
Rivers makes Embiid’s MVP case
With just more than two weeks to play in the regular season, Rivers was asked why Embiid deserves to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award.
The Sixers coach responded with, “I don’t think I have to make one. I think Joel’s making one with his play. I don’t like getting in this whole debate thing, because they’re all great.” But then Rivers did outline a case ranging from Embiid’s numbers, to his defensive impact, to how he anchored his team during the Ben Simmons saga.
“We’ve had definitely some distractions this year, to say the least,” Rivers said. “Probably more than most teams, or any team. ... I keep going back to our record. Like, no one had us where we were without Ben playing one game. No one had that, and that was Joel. My ego would love to say coaching, but that was Joel putting us on his back for the team.
“I think that’s forgotten all of a sudden, to me, now that we have James [Harden] and now that we are healthy. I’m just proud of him, whether he wins or not.”
Embiid entered Wednesday averaging 29.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, a career-high 4.3 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game as the centerpiece of a Sixers’ defense that ranked 10th in the NBA in efficiency (109.6 points per 100 possessions).
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (who won MVP the two seasons before Jokic) are considered to be Embiid’s main challengers for the award.
Lakers coach Vogel impressed with Embiid-Harden early returns
Entering Wednesday, the Sixers’ starting five of Embiid, Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle had posted an offensive rating of 124.7 points per 100 possessions in the 11 games since Harden arrived. That was one of the NBA’s most potent offense in that relatively small sample size.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel has been impressed with “how the chemistry took off right away” between Embiid and Harden.
“You never know,” Vogel said. “Everybody’s got different skill sets. I think James’ decision-making and obviously his ability to shoot the three off the bounce and make defenders go over pick and rolls really creates a dynamic tandem.”
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