BOSTON — The Lakers will be in Philadelphia on Sunday facing a very different 76ers team than they did on Jan. 29 in Los Angeles, when the Sixers left the Staples Center with a 121-105 victory.
“They’re going to look a lot different,” LeBron James said Thursday. “They added an All-Star-caliber player who’s playing All-Star basketball this year in Tobias [Harris].”
But even after praising the big moves the Sixers made ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, James made sure to point out that it’s not just the Philly squad that will look different this time. When the Sixers visited Los Angeles, James was still recovering from a strained groin injury and was watching from the sideline as his young teammates struggled.
“We’re a lot different as well,” he said. “You know, I was in a suit last time. So hopefully I’ll have a great day tomorrow, and I know it’s an early game on Sunday, but I’m looking forward to being in the lineup as well and seeing what we can do.”
What the Lakers were able to do Thursday night, after striking out in their pursuit of Anthony Davis from the Pelicans, was to rebound from the worst loss of James’ career — a 42 point drubbing by the Pacers on Tuesday — and beat the Celtics in Boston behind a triple-double from James and a buzzer-beating jumper from Rajon Rondo.
The Lakers needed a victory to get them back on track. Days of reports about what the Lakers and James would be willing to give up in a deal for Davis included just about every Lakers player, and it created an awkward atmosphere (that’s putting it lightly).
From James’ sitting three seats away from his teammates on the bench Tuesday to the Indiana fans’ chanting “LeBron wants to trade you” while Brandon Ingram shot free throws, the last couple of days were full of tension for the Lakers. Rondo’s hitting his first career game-winner in his old stomping grounds in Boston was just the ticket to make the team feel better.
It was after the victory in Boston that James looked ahead to the Lakers’ next opponent, the Sixers, and noted the improvements the team made at the trade deadline.
“They also added some more athleticism to their bench, guys who just play extremely hard," he said. "That’s one thing they do. They’re big, they have a lot of length, and they play hard.”
James wasn’t the only one who thought the Sixers upgraded with the additions of Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis, and Jonathan Simmons. Multiple players from both teams noted that the Sixers were making “win now” moves.
But again, James made sure that he noted the moves that his own team made, which included adding Reggie Bullock from the Pistons and grabbing Mike Muscala, whom the Sixers had just traded to the Clippers in the deal for Harris.
“It creates space,” James said. “Adding a shooter like Mike Muscala, who spreads the floor extremely well and is going to be guarded by a lot of bigs and keep the bigs out of the paint.”
Even though James said that the trades improved the Lakers, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as he was when evaluating the Sixers’ dealings.
“They’re going for it,” James said.