Exactly one month ago today, the 76ers recorded their first win of the season against the Lakers. Kobe Bryant had just announced his impending retirement as of the end of the season and the crowd arrived mostly in support of the quasi-hometown guy. He responded by shooting 7-26 from the floor and 4-17 on threes, almost single-handedly letting the Sixers escape with a victory. Things have changed for both teams since then. Here are three things to watch for.
1. It's your last chance to watch Kobe play against the Sixers
Whatever your thoughts of Bryant, this is the last time he'll play your favorite team. Including the 2001 Finals, most of his career has included a bit of apprehension toward and from his teenage hometown, and his antics will be missed. He's expected to play despite a shoulder issue, which is cool considering he's playing through a mostly meaningless season.
Kobe has struggled all season, but he's had some better games since the retirement announcement. His last two have been forgettable, shooting 10-38 from the floor overall. Expect JaKarr Sampson to draw the defensive assignment.
2. The Sixers staying "small"
Sixers.com's Brian Seltzer confirmed with Sixers coach Brett Brown that Jahlil Okafor would again come off the bench for his second consecutive game off a two-game absence. The Lakers tend to play two traditional bigs, though current starting power forward Larry Nance Jr. is about the same size as expected Sixers starter Jerami Grant.
In Wednesday night's win against the Sacramento Kings, the Sixers for the first time did not play Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor together for a single minute on the floor in a game where both were healthy. Noel and Okafor instead split all the center minutes between them, Noel receiving 27 to Okafor's 21. As Okafor works back from a week off, I don't expect the even split to continue. The Sixers always prioritize player development even in winnable games, and Okafor needs to play more than backup minutes no matter what you think of him and his future.
It also doesn't help that Hollis Thompson is out with a corneal abrasion. The corneal abrasion has spread around the Sixers like a flu strain this year.
3. Rooting for a victory
The Sixers are still three games ahead of the Lakers in the win column for the worst record in the league. The Lakers are also a tire fire of a team, albeit one with some experienced NBA players who likely won't outright tank out of respect to the retiring Bryant.
I personally will be rooting for a win, even if a loss might be beneficial in the long-term. I've seen too many losses to root for them anymore.