By Connor Thomas
Buckle up folks. Tonight is Philadelphia’s first taste of a clash of NBA titans. First place vs. first place, Anthony Davis vs. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons attempting to contain LeBron James. These are the matchups that you circle on the calendar the minute the schedule gets released. The Sixers were robbed of one of these opportunities earlier this month when a highly anticipated tilt in Brooklyn against the Nets was derailed by a COVID ineligible Kevin Durant, a Kyrie Irving disappearance, and a mid-game positive test result for Sixers’ Seth Curry. Cross your fingers, but it seems that tonight we will finally get a matchup of that caliber in South Philadelphia. Despite coming off an awful loss to a last place Detroit Pistons team, the Sixers still sit firmly in first place in the Eastern Conference at 12-6. The Lakers have the most wins in basketball and are atop the Western Conference at 14-4. The defending champions out of Los Angeles may not put as much stock in this game as the Sixers, of course they are favorites to repeat as champions this year and already have a proven roster. But for Doc Rivers’ side, tonight’s game is a huge measuring stick for where the Joel Embiid-led Sixers stand in the conversation of championship contenders. It will also be a great test for Embiid, as he will go up against one of the other premier big men in the game today in Anthony Davis. Throughout the career of the two dominant bigs, the numbers actually lean Embiid’s way, both in stats and in record. However, most of Davis’ early years were spent on a lowly New Orleans Pelicans side. On a Lakers side that is stacked with stars and led by some guy named James, he has been a different beast.
An undercard to the title fight that features Embiid and Davis that deserves some attention is the new Lakers vs. the old. Following a championship season in Southern California, veterans Dwight Howard and Danny Green both made their way to Philadelphia, while LA reloaded with reigning 6th Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and veteran big man Marc Gasol. It would not be farfetched to believe that Howard and Green would have a little extra juice heading into a matchup with the team they helped make champions last year. If LeBron James has seemingly been understated so far in this preview, it’s simply because there’s not much to write about him that hasn’t already been written. He is a given problem every single night, an ageless wonder who once again is playing at a level few other hoopers ever reach. Ben Simmons, who has been offensively challenged in his young career, has a chance to make a big contribution on the defensive end tonight as he attempts to slow James down. There are plenty of storylines for tonight’s contest, and one would expect nothing less from a game that features the best two teams in the NBA right now.
The offensive matchup of the game for the Sixers is going to be Joel Embiid against Anthony Davis/Marc Gasol. Though the billing will undoubtedly be Embiid vs. Davis, Gasol will most likely shoulder the defensive load against Joel, and he had success in the past, especially during his tenure in Toronto. Gasol has a knack for neutralizing Embiid, so it will be worth watching to see if MVP level Joel overcomes demons of previous matchups (see: 0 point performance).
The defensive matchup of the game could have easily also been Embiid-Davis, but for sake of disparity let’s go with Ben Simmons’ job of guarding LeBron James. Ben Simmons is a First Team All-Defensive player from last season. LeBron James was an MVP candidate. Whenever you have those caliber of players attacking each other on the court you have the eyes of the entire
stadium virtual crowd on that matchup.
TV: ESPN and NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: Right here on 97.5 The Fanatic!