The Sixers and Lakers will feature a battle of the NBA’s best bigs.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers is usually an anticipated affair due to both franchise’s history and both clubs recent success of different measures. That’s no different in this young season as the defending NBA champion Lakers sit atop the Western Conference standings with a 14-4 record and the Sixers doing the same thing in the Eastern Conference with a 12-6 record coming into this game.
One could tease themself and others by thinking that this is a potential Finals matchup preview. Living or dying on the outcome as a fan (if you do that kind of thing) depending if the Sixers win or lose. Yet a more worthy storyline is the head to head matchup of Joel Embiid against Anthony Davis.
Both men have received high praise for their talents and accomplishments in the league. Between the two of them, Embiid and Davis have multiple All-Star selections, All-NBA honors, are franchise cornerstones and widely regarded to be in the top 15 best players in the NBA today. In their past encounters on the court they have taken turns guarding each other, which led me to think about this matchup.
The thought of this matchup in this game brought me back to thinking of their past matchups and I wanted a refresher on what happened in those games. Embiid and Davis have faced off against each other four times in their respective careers. Joel Embiid and the Sixers are 3-1 against Anthony Davis led teams. The two have not matched up since Davis was traded to the Lakers before the 2019-20 NBA season. Their last game against one another was on Nov. 21, 2018.
In those previous four games, both players are neck and neck on the stat sheet. Embiid is averaging 20 points per game, 12 rebounds per game, two blocks per game on 46 percent shooting from the field. Davis is barely a tick better by averaging 20.8 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game, 2.3 blocks per game on 36 percent shooting from the field.
It’s not late 2018 anymore though. Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis have both ascended to greater heights with that being either individually, team success or both. Davis is coming off a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy season and subsequent Finals run. This year he is slightly underachieving compared to last year but it is still early. Davis is averaging 21.8 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game, 1.9 blocks per game on 58.9 True Shooting percentage.
Joel Embiid is on a different wavelength, as he is at the forefront of the current MVP conversation. Heading into tonight’s game Embiid is averaging 27.7 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game, 1.4 blocks per game on 67 True Shooting percentage.
Both players have been relatively similar in regards to style of play and ability. The difference this time is the teams they have around them. Anthony Davis is the second offensive option to LeBron James and the anchoring Swiss Army knife for the Laker defense. Joel Embiid is the best player on both sides of the court for the Sixers, similarly to the days of late 2018. Only now, Embiid has a better supporting cast that fits what he does on the court.
With that being the situation, there will not be as much one on one possessions between AD and Embiid as some fans would hope to see. The Lakers’ number one ranked defense is a big reason for that being the case. I can imagine that head coach Frank Vogel and the Lakers will have a rotating cast of guys to check Embiid while also sending double teams frequently. AD’s length, athleticism, and instincts on the defensive end come in to play there to force turnovers for easy transition buckets or simply another possession for his team. When matched up with Embiid, I presume Davis would want to make him work for every point he scores. That means funneling Embiid towards his teammates, the sideline, further away from the hoop or uncomfortable spots on the floor for Embiid. It is almost a guarantee that the Lakers gameplan will be something in that realm. On AD’s side of the matchup it will be more tactical, especially defensively.
As I mentioned earlier, Embiid shoulders the heavier load between the two. On the defensive end Embiid will have to worry about LA’s pick and roll attack, which AD is a great beneficiary of. Embiid will have to worry about the ball handler while tagging AD so he doesn’t receive a lob or a drop off pass. Physicality is a strength that Embiid will utilize when defending Davis to knock him off his rhythm. The prevention of mid-post jumpers, baseline/wing drives, and moves to get into the paint are pivotal to the success of neutralizing Davis.
Offensively, Embiid will just have to keep being himself and then some. The improvements made by him in the passing, shooting and turnover departments have to be on full display in this game. Imposing his will to score on Davis as well as the entire LA defense is a vital thing for this game. That could be a myriad of ways as we’ve all come accustomed to seeing. Deep seals in the paint, post ups, face ups, drawing fouls, mid-range jumpers, three-pointers, rolling to the rim and even in transition. Another advantage Embiid has in this matchup is intel. The intel of what AD likes to do and doesn’t like to do from former teammates of his in Danny Green and Dwight Howard.
A high IQ and talented player in Embiid knows what he is being asked of every night. This game is no different. I expect to see a turned up aggression in Embiid’s play with the intent of putting the Lakers in foul trouble, especially AD.
The matchup is to be showcased on the national stage of ESPN. The Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid hope to add another win against Anthony Davis as well as building confidence in their team as a whole. It’s safe to say this game should be an enjoyable one to watch.