A maroon Lower Merion High School No. 33 jersey was spotted in Section 114 of the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night. So was a gold No. 24 in the second row of courtside seats near the Lakers’ bench. And a black No. 8 in the front corner of Section 117. And a purple shirt with a “Mamba Forever” message on a man walking behind the basket.
Those were subtle reminders of the timing of the 76ers’ 105-87 win over the Lakers. It was one night after the two-year anniversary of the death of Kobe Bryant, who spent his teenage years in Philly before blossoming into an NBA legend.
Coincidentally, this is the second year in a row the Lakers have played in Philly on Jan. 27, though fans were not present for last year’s meeting because of COVID-19 precautions. Yet besides the wardrobe nods to Bryant peppered throughout the stands, the significance of the week was not the organic backdrop — or even the undercurrent — for this year’s matchup.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel and players were not asked about Bryant before or after the game. Instead, topics ranged from LeBron James sitting out because of a sore knee, Anthony Davis’ re-acclimation after missing more than a month with a knee injury and the “unacceptable” words a courtside fan said to Carmelo Anthony. James posted a photo edit on Instagram Thursday of Bryant extending an arm to pull him off the floor with the caption “Long Live The Mamba!”, but did not speak to reporters following the game because he was injured.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who acknowledges he loses track of dates including his birthday, said he reflected on Bryant Wednesday “only because it was brought up.”
“When people remind you of stuff, you automatically go back there,” Rivers said. “ ... You watch Kobe’s highlights, you should really enjoy them. And I don’t think any of us — at least I’m not — at the enjoyment stage yet. That’s gonna take a while, probably. For all of us.”
Sixers veteran wing Danny Green, who played for the Lakers during the 2019-20 season, did offer some thoughtful perspective when asked about Bryant following Thursday’s shootaround. He called the Lakers’ return to the court after Bryant, his daughter, Gigi, and seven others died in a helicopter crash “the toughest game I’ve ever played.”
“It was like an out-of-body experience physically, mentally, emotionally,” Green said. “Just guys were not themselves and trying to play a basketball game. … I remember it was a really hard game to play and get through, and just a tough week. People grieving and the city just hurting.
“But the city came together and we made something special happen that year [winning the 2020 NBA championship], and hopefully I can do the same thing for this group.”
Green said he hoped a Sixers teammate would have a “Kobe Game” against the Lakers Thursday night. Stars Joel Embiid (26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and Tobias Harris (23 points on 10-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, four assists) carried the scoring load, while second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey (14 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds) recorded the first double-double of his career.
“Kobe was a big piece to our fraternity, our league, our world — and not just the basketball world,” Green said. “ … How hard he worked, the things he lived by and a lot of things that he has taught and passed down to the younger generation will forever live on.
“People at this moment can kind of remember the times that they shared with him, the memories, the battles.”
Seth Curry upgraded to questionable to play Saturday
After missing the past four games with left ankle soreness, Sixers starting guard Seth Curry has been upgraded to questionable to play Saturday night against Sacramento.
Curry is in the midst of a career season, averaging 15.8 points per game on 50.9% shooting from the field and 41.7% on 5.5 three-point field-goal attempts per game. He is also averaging four assists and 3.4 rebounds per game, and has become a dangerous scorer in the two-man game with Embiid.
Prior to Thursday’s victory over the Lakers, Rivers said Curry had done “a lot” on the court Wednesday but had dialed his load back to primarily shooting during Thursday morning’s shootaround.
“We were hoping he’d be back [Thursday]. That’s not gonna happen,” Rivers said then. “So we’re just gonna see next game to see if he can go. … He just wasn’t ready. I don’t even know if this was a playoff game if he would have been able to play. We’ve just got to wait until he feels better.”
Backup point guard Shake Milton remains out with a back contusion sustained during a Jan. 3 game against Houston. Charles Bassey, Paul Reed, Jaden Springer and Myles Powell will all be unavailable against the Kings because they are with the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats.