It seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers were finally nearing full strength as they recently got Anthony Davis back.
They picked up a strong victory over the Brooklyn Nets in his return and are hoping to build off that against MVP candidate Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
Unfortunately though, that health was short-lived Frank Vogel announced pregame that LeBron James is not playing against the 76ers due to soreness in his left knee, a minor injury that will have him be considered day-to-day moving forward.
James has been playing an extremely high level so this is a tough break for the Lakers against a quality opponent, although it is positive news that James’ injury isn’t more serious.
Amid the ongoing Ben Simmons saga, the 76ers have taken a bit of a dive from their place in the standings last season. They currently sit at No. 6 in the Eastern Conference but are one of the league’s strongest teams at nine games over .500.
This has largely been due to the dominant play of Embiid, who is averaging 29.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game on incredible shooting numbers for a center. The 76ers star is one of the NBA’s leading MVP candidates just over halfway through the season.
Outside of Embiid — even without Simmons — the 76ers still have a relatively strong roster. On Thursday against the Lakers, they’re without Seth Curry and Shake Milton, two of their better shooters, while Tobias Harris also could miss the game due to illness. However, they are getting former Laker Danny Green back in the lineup.
While the Lakers don’t have James, Davis is playing for the second straight game. He gave the Lakers new life on Tuesday against the Nets, putting on a defensive clinic in his first game since suffering an MCL sprain in December. While he still needs time to get back into an offensive rhythm and get back up to his usual workload, he still provides Russell Westbrook and the Lakers with plenty of help in James’ absence.
Against the 76ers and with James not playing, Vogel expects the Lakers to turn away from their recent trend of small-ball. Between Embiid and another former Laker in Andre Drummond, the 76ers can overwhelm teams with size. Even if he doesn’t start, expect Dwight Howard to play a role in Thursday’s matchup.
On the perimeter, the Lakers must deal with the hounding defense of Matisse Thybulle while attempting to slow down the rising star of Tyrese Maxey on offense. Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Avery Bradley should all spend time with Maxey throughout the night.
Stanley Johnson — who officially signed a two-year contract earlier in the week — plays his first game as a full-time member of the Lakers.
For the Lakers to grab a win against the 76ers, it will take another complete team effort. If they can do so, it could provide another shot of momentum to L.A.’s efforts to climb the Western Conference standings.
Lakers (24-24) vs. 76ers (28-19)
4:30 p.m. PT, Jan. 27, 2022
Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, Carmelo Anthony, Talen Horton-Tucker, Trevor Ariza
Projected 76ers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyrese Maxey
SG: Matisse Thybulle
SF: Danny Green
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Key Reserves: Furkan Korkmaz, Andre Drummond, Isaiah Joe, Georges Niang
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