A quarter of the way through the NBA season is relatively early to make NBA Finals predictions, but the battle of the Philadelphia 76ers vs Los Angeles Lakers could very well be a preview. The Eastern Conference top seed faced the defending NBA Champs in Philadelphia in a battle that came down the last second.
Late in the opening quarter with the Philadelphia 76ers in control, LeBron James drove to the basket and challenged Joel Embiid. When the 76ers All-Star center swatted away what appeared to be an easy basket, it turned into a five-point turnaround after Danny Green drilled a three. That was a defining moment of what this season has been for Philadelphia. There is no question the Philadelphia 76ers will go as far as Joel Embiid will take them. They are 13-2 in games he’s played and 0-4 in his absence. Putting himself in the conversation for NBA MVP, Embiid is averaging nearly 28 points and 12 rebounds, while hitting 54 percent from the floor.
Of course, the Los Angeles Lakers have a dynamic duo in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, along with a deep roster with key role players. They ended up erasing the lead and appeared to be on the verge of going to 11-0 on the road. However, with just three seconds remaining, the Philadelphia 76ers second leading scorer, Tobias Harris drilled a pull-up jumper to send the Lakers back to Los Angeles with a loss, 107-106. Lakers Marc Gasol had handled Joel Embiid in the past, limiting him to 10.6 points per game in the previous eight meetings, but Embiid is a different player this year, one that very few, if any will be able to guard straight up. Despite a hard fall on a James foul in the second half, Embiid finished with 28 points and six rebounds.
While the win was impressive, it is only January and doesn’t determine the fate for the rest of the season. The 76ers still have to prove they can handle the Celtics, Bucks, and the improved Brooklyn Nets to advance to the NBA Finals. There’s no question, however, that a rematch from the 2001 Finals when the Los Angeles Lakers beat Philadelphia 76ers in five games, is entirely possible.
One thing the 76ers thrive on is playing at home, despite the absence of fans. They are 10-1 this season and 41-5 since the beginning of last year. In a playoff series in which they have home court advantage, that is a game-changer. Ben Simmons, Harris, Green, and Seth Curry, to go along with Embiid give the 76ers a very strong starting five.
Lebron James knows that the 76ers are one of the teams in the East that could make a run, but he also knows that his new look Lakers, are also proven. They traded JaVale McGee and let Dwight Howard go to Philadelphia 76ers, but replaced them with Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol. Anthony Davis believes that the group they have are still plenty good enough to take down the 76ers in a seven-game series, despite the improvement in Philadelphia. There’s a long way to go before the playoffs and a lot can happen, but Davis and his teammates may get a chance to back their boasting and defend their NBA title.