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Sixers host Warriors in emotional return to action

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An emotional game to say the least ...

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still so surreal that I have to type part of my next sentence.

The Philadelphia 76ers will be playing their first game since the tragic death of Los Angeles Lakers superstar and future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. (Kobe will be entered into the Hall, posthumously.) Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others died after a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday.

All around the NBA, teams have been taking 24-second violations and eight-second violations to honor the late Lakers guard. The Sixers drafted their own message:

Player after player from Tobias Harris to Joel Embiid to Ben Simmons have expressed sorrow in the tragedy, and fans in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia gathered to mourn and celebrate the life of Kobe “Bean” Bryant.

In their game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James passed Bryant to become the third-leading scorer in NBA history. The Sixers host the Golden State Warriors tonight at the Wells Fargo Center – a team that is going through its own hard times.

After multiple NBA Finals appearances, the Warriors have had a rough 2019-20 season. They lost forward Kevin Durant via sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Guard Klay Thompson is still recovering from ACL surgery after a nasty fall on a breakaway layup in last year’s NBA Finals, and their other starting guard, Steph Curry, is recovering from a broken hand he suffered in the beginning of the year.

D’Angelo Russell was the main piece the Warriors got back in that sign-and-trade, and he leads the Warriors in scoring (23.9 ppg) with a .560 TS% and a 37.6 percent mark from 3 on almost ten attempts per game. Alec Burks, one of three names that guest poster Marty Teller mentioned as a potential Sixers trade target, has been enjoying a resurgence with the Warriors. Injury after injury have cut Burks’s seasons short, but he’s remained healthy for Golden State and is averaging 15.9 ppg while shooting 35.5 percent from deep.

The heart and core of the team is, of course, Draymond Green – the only healthy remaining player from the team that won three titles in four years. Green is far from his 2015-16 averages of 14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, but he’s still the defensive catalyst he always was. (It’s not his fault no one else on the Warriors plays defense.)

The Sixers have won seven of their last ten games and are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks and cowardly Miami Heat with identical 21-2 home records. He’s still injured, but news came out yesterday that Joel Embiid could be returning to the team this week.

Ben Simmons has been absolutely fantastic in Embiid’s absence. Since Embiid went down, Simmons is averaging 21.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game, and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. In all but one game, Simmons has taken ten or more field goals and shown much more aggressiveness on the offensive end to go with his aggressiveness on the defensive end.

Tobias Harris has also had a lovely month of January averaging 20.1 points and shooting 40 percent (!) from 3 this month. In Saturday’s win over the Lakers, Harris had 29 points (3-of-8 from deep) and eight rebounds. Matisse Thybulle is back and being a defensive terror – something all of us have enjoyed this season. Thybulle had five steals against the Lakers and has 62 on the season – second on the team to one Benjamin David Simmons.

(SIDE NOTE: Can we talk about the “popping of tha Korkmaz” this month? Furkan Korkmaz is averaging 10.9 points per game this month shooting 41 percent from 3. Forty … one … PERCENT! Keep loading up, brotha!)

It will be an emotional game tonight in the aura of Kobe Bryant’s passing. There will no doubt be a tribute from Kobe’s hometown Sixers, and the Sixers and the NBA will have to try to carry on for the remainder of this season.