Sixers vs Lakers: Kobe’s Last Trip to Philadelphia

Kobe Bryant will make his final trip to Philadelphia to take on the 0-18 Sixers in a game that features numerous off-the-court storylines.

Kobe Bryant will make his final appearance in Philadelphia tonight when the Sixers take on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center | Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant will make his final appearance in Philadelphia tonight when the Sixers take on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center | Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

You wouldn’t normally describe an upcoming game for an 0-18 basketball team as an event.

But this isn’t just any game, and, right now, this isn’t just any team.

A crazy convergence of events, from Jahlil Okafor‘s legal troubles, to Kobe Bryant‘s recent confirmation that this will be his final season, Kobe returning home for his last appearance in Philadelphia, the 2nd and 3rd picks in this last year’s draft squaring off, the potential to set the longest losing streak to start the season in NBA history, and the team returning from a six game road trip, all combine to make tonight’s match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers quite the event.

Any one of those events would create a heightened sense of anticipation (or dread), but the combination of them sets tonight up to be a special night.

Looking beyond the concerns with Okafor and the hoopla surrounding Kobe, do the Sixers have a chance to get their first win of the year tonight?

The Details:

What: Sixers (0-18) vs Lakers (2-14)

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa

When: 7 PM

Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups: 

Sixers: Isaiah Canaan, JaKarr Sampson, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Jahlil Okafor

Lakers: Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, Roy Hibbert

(Note: Official starting lineups are released approximately an hour before the game).

Injury Report:

Joel Embiid (out, right foot), Kendall Marshall (out, right ACL), Tony Wroten (out, right ACL), Carl Landry (out, wrist), Nerlens Noel (questionable, knee soreness).

About The Opponent:

For as much of a story as the Sixers have been, the Lakers owe the Sixers a gift basket for diverting attention away from them.

Kobe Bryant’s recent confirmation that this would be his final season has diverted attention away from just how poorly he is playing this season. Kobe has been as inefficient of a high-usage basketball player as you’ll find in recent history, and Byron Scott is doing everything he can to enable that.

Scott is telling reporters that his guys don’t trust each other on the floor, he is sitting #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell during crunch time, saying Russell needs to man up, while saying he’s not going to reduce Kobe Bryant’s role, and that Bryant has earned the right to take the shots he is.

Kobe has handled his transition to being in elder-statesmen with the grace of a Sherman tank, failing to do what Vince Carter has been so masterful at. The Lakers’ problems go beyond Kobe’s mind-boggling 17 shots per game at a crushing 30.5% shooting from the field, though, and spill onto the defensive side of the court. Sure, they rank 26th in offensive points per possession, in large part because of Kobe’s disastrous effect on the offense, but their defense is even worse at 28th in the league.

Roy Hibbert was supposed to fix some of those defensive problems, but he hasn’t looked quite the same, and he’s dealing with about the worst collection of perimeter defenders you can assemble. Kobe hasn’t been a plus defender in half-a-decade, Lou Williams and Nick Young have never been, and D’Angelo Russell is prone to making mistakes typical of a rookie.

On top of that, the Lakers don’t rebound the ball particularly well (6th worst in defensive rebounding rate), don’t force any turnovers (last in the league), and are all-too-reliant on jumpers for their own offense, with only 20.7% of their field goal attempts coming from within 3′ of the basket, the lowest ratio in the league. By contract, 30.8% of the Sixers shots come from within 3′.

What To Look For:

Most of the attention will be given to off-the-court issues, most notably Jahlil Okafor. Chris Broussard of ESPN reported that Okafor requested a security detail to accompany him when he goes out, something Broussard said the club would accommodate. TMZ refuted that, claiming representatives of Okafor have told them he’s never done so, instead reporting that the team and Okafor have discussed plans to have security with him at team events. Getting clarification on many of the events surround Okafor will be one of the major focuses tonight.

The second major storyline is Kobe Bryant’s final trip to Philadelphia as a professional basketball player. The city has had a love-hate relationship with Kobe dating back to when the phenom was in high-school, and it’s something that’s going to be a major topic in the next few days.

The match-up itself is rife with storylines. How will Okafor play against Lakers big man Julius Randle? Can Hibbert handle Okafor 1-on-1? Can the Sixers attack Randle with a small-ball lineup without getting hurt in the paint? Can the Lakers defend the three point line? Will Nerlens Noel be available? Will Nik Stauskas return to the starting lineup?

The Lakers have lost 6 straight and 10 of their last 11, and are 1-8 on the road. The Sixers have a very legitimate chance to avoid setting history (again) tonight

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s new Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.