If one was drawing up a scenario for LeBron James to pass Kobe Bryant in career scoring and jump up to third on the NBA all-time scoring leaders and have the most narrative impact, it would probably be James doing so in Staples Center, with Bryant sitting courtside and Lakers fans filling out the building.
But if James’ next career milestone must come on the road, Philadelphia might be a close second only to L.A. as the place for it to happen. And if James can score just 18 points against the Sixers in Bryant’s hometown tonight, that’s exactly what will take place.
18 points may not sound like much for a player with a career scoring average of 27.1 points per game who is averaging 25.2 this season, but the Sixers may not make that easy. Owners of the fourth-best defense in the NBA, Philadelphia has held opponents to just 105.4 points per 100 possessions, just ahead of the Lakers’ fifth-ranked 105.3.
But a big part of that defense will be missing (literally), as 2020 NBA All-Star Game starter and Sixers center Joel Embiid reportedly won’t be re-evaluated until Monday as he works to return from his hand injury. Philadelphia would have been an interesting test for how the ginormous Lakers deal with another ostensible contender who is just as big as they are, but with Embiid out and JaVale McGee having missed the last Lakers game with flu-like symptoms, this may not be the clash of the titans it appeared set to be in the preseason, size-wise.
That may give James a bit more airspace to score, although he’ll still have to deal with the size of Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and the rest of the rangy Sixers. And while Philadelphia hasn’t been as good as many preseason projections pegged them to be (29-17, sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference), this game should still offer an intriguing measuring stick for Los Angeles. Or as Jared Dudley said after the Lakers’ win against the Nets...
“For us, (Brooklyn) is just a stepping stone. These are games we’re supposed to win. We’re waiting for Philly. (That’s) a big game. Clippers, those are the ones where we’re going to see where we’re at heading into the All-Star break, and hopefully make a little run.”
Will that run start tonight? And will James make a little history by passing Bryant in the process? We’ll find out the answers to both those questions and more in a few hours.
Notes and Updates
- Here is the latest Lakers injury update:
JaVale McGee is out tonight for the Lakers with flu-like symptoms. Rajon Rondo, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma were all on the injury report but will play.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) January 25, 2020
- Back to the LeBron passing Kobe stuff, it’s been interesting to watch both men try to make it clear to fans through the media that they don’t consider this a big deal, or some statement of James’ superiority. James has downplayed the achievement while calling Bryant “a legend” who inspired him and would have been a great teammate, while Bryant has said he’s happy for James, and that all Lakers fans should be too. While I’m sure the takes will still be mostly godawful online, it has gone a long way towards keeping fans from spending the moment arguing about who is better, and instead just appreciating both of their greatness and longevity.
- As one last thing, we’ve had a couple of great columns on the site over the last day that I hope you’ll read if you haven’t already. First, Darius Soriano killed this exploration of how much chemistry should be worth for the Lakers, while Sabreena Merchant’s own story on how seriously the team is taking every game was really excellent as well.
The Lakers will tip off against the Sixers at 5:30 p.m. PST, only on ABC (Spectrum SportsNet doesn’t have this game). We’ll see you there.