The Lakers are back on the road for a massive road trip which won’t see them back in Los Angles for nearly two weeks. The eight game, 13 day trip is their longest of the year and includes three back-to-backs including the trip’s final games in San Antonio then Houston. As it stands, the team is currently 2-14, but is it possible they return from the trip 2-22?
Anything is possible, I suppose, but that would mean losing tonight, to the 76ers, a team which may not actually be trying to win. The Sixers are winless to start the season, perfectly futile in their 18 games to this point. Actually, let me take that back. The 76ers on the floor are definitely trying to win, they have just been outgunned by teams with more talent — especially late in games where they have been competitive, but have not been able to close.
Really, what the Sixers have is a lack of talent. They have, realistically, three viable rotation level NBA players on their roster. Their coach, Brett Brown, is a fine tactician from the Popovich tree of coaches, but he suffers from a lack of tools on the floor to execute fully. This is somewhat reflected in the team’s “expected” win/loss record where they should already have 3 wins rather than none. (As an aside, the Lakers projected win total is 4 rather than the 2 they have.)
The backdrop to this game, then, is whether the Sixers can get the win they probably should already have this season. If they do not get it, the break the record for most consecutive losses to start a season at 20. It would also be their 24th straight loss dating back to last year, 4 short of breaking the record set by the Cavs when coached by…Byron Scott. So, much like when the Lakers faced the Warriors last Tuesday, history is at stake tonight.
That is not the only storyline, however. After Kobe announced this season would be his last on Sunday, every road game became a chance for the fans to say goodbye to an all-timer. Kobe, of course, is from Philly and is a great history there, winning a state championship his senior year of high school and winning an NBA championship there in 2001. The fans have mercilessly booed him since that series (when he made comments about wanting to rip out their hearts), so it will be interesting to see how they treat him tonight in his lone visit “home” before calling it a career.
The other story is the battle of the rookies. When the Lakers went against many projections by selecting D’Angelo Russell ahead of Jahlil Okafor, many in Philly moaned. They wanted the sweet shooting lefty to pair with Nerlens Noel and (eventually) Joel Embiid, to form the inside/outside attack of an eventual contender. Instead, they ended up with Okafor who is scoring well as the featured offensive player, but creates positional overlap with Noel and will, ultimately, create even more lineup issues whenever (if ever?) Embiid returns.
Just as many Sixer fans wanted Russell, many Lakers fans wanted Okafor. The fact Russell hasn’t yet had a breakthrough performance and is not putting up numbers like Okafor is only makes passing on him harder for those who did not like the pick. Okafor’s recent late night issues may have quelled some of those thoughts for now, but they will pop up again the next time he scores 20 points on 50% shooting.
In any event, while these guys won’t be guarding each other, their performances will be measured against what the other does. Not only tonight, but, maybe, for the rest of their careers.
Tonight, then, should be interesting for all the reasons mentioned above. With history on the line, a departing legend visiting his home town, and the #2 and #3 overall draft picks doing battle, the game is worth watching. The quality of the basketball may not be great, but you can’t have everything we want now can we?
Where you can watch: 4pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.