‘The King’ may take a play­off pass

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz [email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @bob­grotz on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA >> It could have been LeBron James ring­ing the bell be­fore the Six­ers played Sun­day, not M. Night Shya­malan, the film­maker known for su­per­nat­u­ral plots and crazy end­ings.

Crazy would have been James, Joel Em­biid, Ben Sim­mons and Jimmy Butler lin­ing up to­gether for the open­ing tap. Maybe even To­bias Har­ris.

In­stead, James chose Hollywood in free agency. Didn’t con­sider the Six­ers se­ri­ously enough to make a for­mal visit here.

James rolled with the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers, mak­ing him part of a Sun­day por­trait with a bunch of guys Magic John­son tried to trade to the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans for An­thony Davis. The snap­shot in­cluded Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Reg­gie Bul­lock and Melvin In­gram.

And how did that work out?

The Six­ers crushed James, 143-120, at Wells Fargo Cen­ter. It was over be­fore the fourth quar­ter, Em­biid con­tribut­ing 37 al­most ef­fort­less points and 14 re­bounds, Har­ris 22 points, JJ Redick 21. Hard to be­lieve ABC billed the game as its Sun­day Show­case.

The Six­ers are 36-20. James is 28-28 and com­ing off a groin in­jury. Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton might not make it to the All-Star break, if you be­lieve the ru­mors.

If James re­grets his lat­est De­ci­sion, he’s smart enough not to men­tion it.

“I thought they were go­ing to be very good be­fore they even made a move be­fore the sea­son even started,” James said. “And they’ve made a bunch of moves to help im­prove their club.”

That said, James threw a lit­tle shade on the Six­ers, their fans burst­ing with en­thu­si­asm af­ter a wave of se­ri­ously promis­ing trades and ac­qui­si­tions by gen­eral man­ager El­ton Brand. The deal that doesn’t get talked about is the one ex­il­ing Markelle Fultz and his what­ever-it-is shoul­der con­di­tion to the Or­lando Magic.

First pick in the draft or not, his pres­ence raised ques­tions about how quickly the Six­ers wanted to go from good to great.

James isn’t will­ing to say great, at least not right now. He doesn’t think the Six­ers de­serve to be com­pared to the peren­nial cham­pion Golden State War­riors, who he’s quite fa­mil­iar with.

“It’s two dif­fer­ent teams, two dif­fer­ent make­ups,” James said. “Golden State is a well-oiled ma­chine and they’ve been that for the last five years. They’ve added (Kevin Du­rant), and he’s fit in per­fectly into that puzzle piece. This (Six­ers) team has been to­gether for a cou­ple of years but they’ve added some key pieces to their team just re­cently. You talk about Jimmy, you talk about To­bias now. And Mike Scott is go­ing to be part of that ro­ta­tion, it seems, and Boban (Mar­janovic) as well.

“We’ll have to see. No one knows. We can’t com­pare any team right now to Golden State be­cause they’ve just been to­gether for so long.”

De­fense gen­er­ally isn’t in vogue in the NBA un­til the playoffs. It wasn’t in this game. The post­sea­son is when we’ll know if the Six­ers are good enough de­fend­ing in the half-court to neu­tral­ize the quick­ness and cuts to the bas­ket teams like the Bos­ton Celtics live on.

When a coach rails about his squad not getting it done in the de­fen­sive end dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, as Wal­ton did Sun­day, it’s be­cause he doesn’t have enough scor­ers to get it done at the of­fen­sive end.

The Six­ers’ sub­sti­tutes outscored their Lak­ers coun­ter­parts, 40-21. James got 18 points, 10 re­bounds and nine as­sists. Kuzma, with 39 points, McGee (21 points) and In­gram (19) were the only Lak­ers in dou­ble fig­ures.

James, the Lak­ers’ point for­ward, said the team misses in­jured point guard Lonzo Ball, who re­port­edly was shopped be­fore the trade dead­line be­cause he’s “a huge piece of the team.”

Ball wouldn’t have made much of a dif­fer­ence Sun­day. It would be bet­ter spin­ning sto­ries about how James to the Six­ers wouldn’t have worked any­way be­cause, you know, there’s only one bas­ket­ball.

To their credit, the Six­ers are do­ing a de­cent job of re­fut­ing the art of spread­ing the ball around, as they reg­is­tered 33 as­sists Sun­day, in­clud­ing seven by Sim­mons.

In Brett Brown par­lance, that’s known as “the pass is king, and that’s what I’ve said since we all met.” That’s the pass that’s king, not LBJ.

The Lak­ers had 31 as­sists and were al­most even on the back­boards, yet still were routed. The Six­ers led, 109-94, en­ter­ing the fi­nal frame.

James nailed a three­p­ointer and a cou­ple of free throws to off­set three turnovers as the Lak­ers scored a sea­son-high 40 points in the first quar­ter to take a one-point lead into the next frame.

But it was Em­biid who gave the Six­ers their first lead and put them ahead by as many as 11 points, swish­ing a turn­around early in the sec­ond pe­riod. Em­biid scored 17 of his 25 first-half points in the quar­ter.

Again, it was so easy it looked like Em­biid was getting it done in an All­Star game set­ting. He went coast-to-coast for a dunk af­ter col­lect­ing a James turnover in the first half, the Lak­ers spread­ing to the cor­ners to cover Redick, Har­ris and Butler, leav­ing the lane wide open. It set the tone for the af­ter­noon.

The Lak­ers made moves of their own. Not to knock Mike Mus­cala, who the Six­ers traded to the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers, who re­layed him to the Sta­ples Cen­ter, but he didn’t make much of a dif­fer­ence with eight points and one re­bound in 13 min­utes off the bench Sun­day.

“It’s been a short time,” Mus­cala said of be­ing team­mates with James. “But ob­vi­ously it’s been re­ally great to play with him. Def­i­nitely he has a pres­ence. He’s a very smart guy.”

Not this time. Not with this ca­reer de­ci­sion.

James has par­tic­i­pated in eight straight NBA fi­nals.

This year, he might not make it to the playoffs be­cause, you know, the pass is King.


The Lak­ers’ LeBron James re­acts dur­ing the sec­ond half against the 76ers, Sun­day in Philadel­phia. The 76ers won 143-120.

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