LeBron James and Anthony Davis come to South Philly tonight to face off with the Sixers. This Lakers team is sliding and going into hysterics. They sit at 24-24. They have one of the three-best players of all time still playing with nearly all of his powers and flourishing, but it feels like they’re going to combust at any moment. That’s what happens when you have the biggest ball-stopper these eyes have ever seen in 33-year-old Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-10 basketball player who’s terrified of playing center.
Let’s take a look at Westbrook’s history in Philly and Joel Embiid doing more outrageous Joel Embiid things in my preview before tonight’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff:
- I won’t be in attendance for tonight’s game, but I would’ve loved to have been part of a raucous crowd that goes into a frenzy after every bricked Westbrook shot. Philly has a testy history with ol’ Mr. Empty Stats Triple-Double. In Joel Embiid’s first career game, that one Sixers fan flipped him the double bird:
Sixers fan flipping off Russell Westbrook pic.twitter.com/Ao1V4g4EGI— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 27, 2016
I was in the arena that night. Between seeing Embiid’s first professional bucket, watching Dario Šarić finally suit up for the Sixers and then that fan goes ballistic, it was an outing I’ll never forget.
I’ll say this: I’m not dropping four figures for tickets to get kicked out immediately on Opening Night for a team that won 10 games the previous season, but that’s just me. If it was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and I found myself down there and the Sixers were getting blown out? Perhaps I’d do that to Kevin Durant. That guy is a sicko, so I have to respect that to some degree given that I am one too, even though I don’t totally condone his actions.
Westbrook and Embiid got physical at the Wells Fargo Center back in January 2019:
Not a fan of either of these two, but in my opinion Embiid was bracing for the fall and pushed Westbrook. Russ is always looking for a reason to fight*— Curtis (@Curtica1) January 20, 2019
*Get his teammates to hold him back pic.twitter.com/RDFSOy3yn2
I know those South Philly Sixers ball boys were ready to get into it when Westbrook did the classic, “HOLD ME BACK!” move.
Then there was Popcorngate in the 2021 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
A Sixers fan just showered Russell Westbrook with popcorn pic.twitter.com/wNELCfKp2k— Everything's Phine (@evrythingsphine) May 27, 2021
Look, I enjoy being a deranged and wild fan in the stands more than anyone, but come on. You can’t be doing that. That person gave national talking heads more material for their anti-Philly agenda for the next 40 years.
How does tonight end? Westbrook rage fouling Embiid? Some big “WEST-BROOK SUCKS!” chant from the fans? Westbrook becoming the first player in league history to go 0-20 from the field? Lots of drama coming on TNT this evening!
- I can’t break much new ground when discussing the brilliance of Joel Embiid this season. He’s the MVP. He’s not just the best big man in basketball. He might legitimately be the best player on the planet right now. When every stat nugget says he’s the first Sixer to reach a given benchmark since Wilt Chamberlain was averaging 35 and 25 back in 1966 or whatever, you know this is something truly special. I saw this note and it just absolutely blows my mind:
Joel Embiid has scored 170 points in just over 128 minutes in his last 4 games, good for 1.32 points per minute.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2022
The only player with a higher points per minute over a 4-game span since minutes became official in 1951-52 is Wilt Chamberlain (min. 50 minutes). pic.twitter.com/WMbUYmzzgo
I remember the lead-up to the 2014 NBA Draft. There was a commercial where ESPN was showing all the top prospects and the players were given titles based on their skill set. Embiid was “The Shot Blocker.” He was set to come in the league and be an immediate defensive presence and an ongoing project offensively with huge upside. The dude is a beast on D, but he’s legitimately playing like one of the most efficient offensive players of all time.
I know per-36 minute stats have gone out of vogue and per-100 possession numbers give a greater sense of a player’s volume compared to their efficiency, but this next note really took me aback. I looked at Embiid’s per-36 minute career numbers since he was on a minutes restriction early in his career. According to Stathead, Embiid’s 29.6 points per 36 minutes is the highest number of all time (minimum 200 games played). That’s right above Michael Jordan’s 28.3 points per 36 minutes. HE’S SCORING MORE QUICKLY THAN MJ WAS.
After looking that up, I obviously had to look at the per-100 possessions numbers too. Once again according to the invaluable Stathead, Embiid’s 39.7 points per-100 possessions are the second most in their database since possession data began being recorded in the 1974 season. He trails just Jordan, who had 40.4 points per-100 possessions.
I’m basically saying things you already know. Embiid’s incredible. I hope he gets Anthony Davis, the most overrated NBA player in my two decades as a fan, to retire from basketball at halftime.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
When: 7:30 pm ET, January 27, 2022
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic