‘The King’ may take a playoff pass
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.