The Philadelphia 76ers are starting to find some consistency.
Philadelphia improved to 5-1 in its last six games and 30-17 overall with a 108-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris led the way in the latest effort in what could be an NBA Finals preview if the 76ers continue living up to their potential.
As for the Lakers, they still sit atop the Western Conference at 36-10 despite the end of their two-game winning streak. LeBron James provided a silver lining and surpassed Kobe Bryant for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list in the loss.
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Notable Player Stats
- PHI PG Ben Simmons: 28 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals
- PHI F Tobias Harris: 29 points and eight rebounds
- LAL F LeBron James: 29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and eight turnovers
- LAL F Anthony Davis: 31 points, seven rebounds and two steals
76ers Turning into Juggernaut at Home
On paper, the 76ers had no business winning this game.
Not only were they playing a powerhouse Lakers squad with James and Anthony Davis, but they were also without big man Joel Embiid or swingman Josh Richardson. That meant far less rim protection to counter Los Angeles' duo and no Embiid as a go-to option on offense.
Adversity hasn't been a problem for the 76ers at home this season.
They are now a sparkling 21-2 in front of the home fans and count wins over the Lakers, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and, most impressively, Milwaukee Bucks. That type of dominance is key in a tight playoff race, as the Nos. 2 through 6 seeds were separated by 2.5 games in the Eastern Conference entering play.
Moving up those standings will give Philadelphia more chances to play in front of those raucous fans in the postseason, and Simmons and Harris played with just the type of urgency one would expect given the standings.
Simmons has conducted a beautiful basketball orchestra without Embiid clogging the lane and has consistently attacked the basket, facilitated when defenders collapse and battled for boards. He notched a double-double and triple-double with 34 points in wins over the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets in the previous two games and appeared to feed off the crowd's energy.
Throw in Harris' scoring touch, and it was clear the 76ers weren't losing at Wells Fargo Center.
LeBron Provides Silver Lining by Passing Kobe
There wasn't much to feel good about from the Lakers' perspective in this one other than a spurt that came up short in the second half, but James at least made history.
He passed Bryant's 33,643 points for third on the league's all-time scoring list with a layup in the third quarter, drawing admiration even from the 76ers faithful. The moment also helped make up for his eight turnovers and 1-of-6 mark from three-point range, although he was clearly forcing the issue since no other Laker outside of Davis scored more than seven points.
Debates about James vs. Bryant in the all-time pantheon of NBA players have largely turned into James vs. Michael Jordan arguments as the King has surpassed the Black Mamba in many fans' eyes. Still, Bryant is the Lakers legend and the fact that James did so in Purple and Gold makes Saturday's moment all the more notable.
Bryant played all 20 seasons in Los Angeles and built a resume that includes five championships, a league MVP, two NBA Finals MVPs, 18 All-Star nods, 15 All-NBA selections, two scoring titles and 12 All-Defensive selections. His Nos. 8 and 24 jerseys are both retired in the Staples Center' rafters.
There is a somewhat uncomfortable dynamic for Bryant's biggest fans seeing James, who they surely cheered against for most of his career, wearing the same jersey and adding to his list of accomplishments, but Lakers supporters will ultimately remember James for whether he brings them a championship.
Saturday was not exactly the best advertisement for those chances in the last contest of a five-game road trip against a dominant home team in Philadelphia, but he at least made history.