The Lakers (14-4) are set for game four of the seven on their current road trip as they look to build upon a perfect 10-0 record away from Los Angeles with a contest at Philadelphia (12-6) at 4:30 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet.
Below are three things to know about the matchup:
EARLY MVP RACE
At the quarter point of the 2020-21 season, LeBron James, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis have all been mentioned in most too-early MVP lists, with LeBron and Embiid generally at or near the top. And while Embiid has been terrific for Philly, LeBron may hold the early lead, especially coming off his ridiculous 46-point performance at Cleveland on Monday night. In the fourth quarter alone, James hit 9 of 10 shots for 21 points – two more than the Cavs managed – plus two steals, two blocks and two assists.
In his 18th NBA season, LeBron has played in all 18 Lakers games, leading them to the league’s best record, and best net rating at 9.7, plus a 10-0 road record. He’s averaging 25.2 points on 49.7% FG’s and a career-best 41.2% from 3, plus 7.4 assists, 7.9 boards and 0.9 steals in a career-low 32.7 minutes per game. His individual net rating of 12.5 ranks 8th in the NBA for players averaging at least 20 minutes per game (minimum eight games). Truly unprecedented stuff.
Embiid, meanwhile, is having the best season of his 5-year career, leading Philly to an Eastern-Conference best 12 wins*, and the league’s 8th-best net rating of 3.1. The Sixers are an impressive 12-2 when he plays, and 0-4 when he doesn’t, with those four games coming with his back tightening up. The Cameroon native is putting up 27.7 points on 55.4% FG’s (by far the best of his career) plus 11.5 boards, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals, though his assist to turnover ratio is 2.7 to 3.1. Embiid’s net rating is 11.5, six spots behind LeBron, and one ahead of AD (11.4).
*Only two of Philly’s wins have come against teams with .500 or better records (Boston, twice, who played without Jayson Tatum).
On Wednesday, Embiid will see Marc Gasol – who’s had more success against him than most centers – on him at the start of each half, Davis will likely need to spend some time on him, which should be must-watch television.
The free throw line has been a major factor in helping the Sixers to wins … but also in preventing the Lakers from being scored upon. Philly ranks second in the NBA in FT's made (19.4), while LAL rank 1st in made free throws against (13.5).
Embiid gets the lion’s share of attempts*, taking 10.7 per game, while Ben Simmons puts up 5.3 and Shake Milton 4.0 off Philly’s bench. Meanwhile, Philly ranks 20th in FTA against (23.7), and the Lakers 14th in FTA’s (17.3). LeBron’s 5.6 attempts, and AD’s 5.4, lead the way, with Montrezl Harrell at 3.7 and Dennis Schroder at 3.2. Davis continues his struggle at the foul line, where he’s shooting 73.6%, down from 84.6% last season.
*Embiid leads the NBA in free throws made at 8.9, with a strong 83.3% from the stripe.
How the FT battle plays out could be a major factor in determining Wednesday’s winner. The Lakers have been the better team this season and certainly last, but a deficit at the foul line could indicate that they weren’t the aggressor, and therefore, that they weren’t playing their game. On the flip side, if the Sixers can’t get to the line as they typically do, they’ll have a tough time scoring enough on L.A.’s No. 1 ranked defense.
REUNION WITH DANNY AND DWIGHT
The only man in the league with back-to-back NBA titles, Danny Green, is set to start opposite his backcourt mate from last season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Meanwhile, LAL's backup center from last season, Dwight Howard, will no doubt spend some time on Anthony Davis.
Green was an instrumental part of L.A.’s title run, as he always contributed on the defensive end even on nights when his shot wasn’t falling. And, if his shot weren’t falling, he still had gravity with opposing defenders, helping keep the floor spaced for his teammates. Green ranked 4th on the team in net rating in the regular season, and first in the playoffs by a relatively large margin at 15.8, with the caveat that he was almost always on the floor next to LeBron and AD.
This season, Green is shooting 36.5% from 3, taking 6.4 of his 8.4 FGA’s per game from distance, though he’s struggling from two, hitting 40.5%. Ever reliable, he’s played in all 18 games, after Iron Man years in both Toronto and L.A. towards the championships. Howard's numbers are very close to his 2019-20 stats for the Lakers, as he continues to focus on defense and rolling to the rim after setting screens, plus the glass.
As it was with JaVale McGee in Cleveland, the pandemic will keep Green’s former teammates from really getting to catch up and reflect upon their title. Philly’s trip to L.A. has yet to be scheduled in the second half of the season, so we don’t yet know when Green will receive his well-deserved championship ring.