76ers, Lakers might look like themselves again in matchup
The Los Angeles Lakers and visiting Philadelphia 76ers could be near full strength when they meet for the first time this season on Tuesday.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James is on the verge of returning from a 16-game absence because of a groin injury sustained against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas.
James, who leads the Lakers in scoring (27.3) and rebounding (8.3) and is second in assists (7.1), began taking part in full-contact practices over the weekend. The Lakers are 6-10 without him.
Second-leading scorer Kyle Kuzma (19.1) sat out a 116-102 win against the visiting Phoenix Suns on Sunday evening with a sore hip, but he should be ready to return against Philadelphia.
The 76ers have been short-handed the past three games and were severely overmatched in a 126-110 loss to the Nuggets in Denver on Saturday night.
Philadelphia was missing its top two scorers, center Joel Embiid (27.2) and shooting guard Jimmy Butler (19.0), as well as starting small forward Wilson Chandler.
All three are expected back against the Lakers, however.
Embiid took Saturday night off to rest after experiencing back tightness in previous games, giving him six days off before playing Los Angeles. He recorded his career high of 46 points in a 115-109 win against the Lakers at Staples Center on Nov. 15, 2017.
Embiid missed the highly anticipated matchup against Denver 7-footer Nikola Jokic, but he'll be up against a young Lakers center who is building confidence. Ivica Zubac had 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds against the Suns, and he has reached double figures in points in five straight games for the first time in his three-year career.
"You're going to get little chances here and there, and you've got to show your coaches you deserve more," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "Every time we play him, he keeps playing at a high level."
Butler has missed the past three games with a sore right wrist. He saw a specialist in Los Angeles on Friday and was diagnosed with a sprain. Chandler has been bothered by left hamstring tightness and sat out against the Nuggets, his team the past six seasons.
"If we needed this game, like it was a playoff run or something like that, I could have played easily," Chandler told reporters afterward.
The 76ers had been building momentum all month until running into the Nuggets.
The last time they were at full strength, they posted a decisive 120-96 win Jan. 17 at the Indiana Pacers, who are one spot ahead of the 76ers in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia then lost to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder for the 19th straight time as Butler missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the 117-115 defeat, but they rebounded without Butler to post wins last week against the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, two more teams that currently hold playoff spots.
The 76ers were 9-3 in January before running into the Nuggets, the No. 2 team in the Western Conference standings.
"You look forward to moving on, getting the guys healthy and continuing on with our season," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since Dec. 7, 2017, when Lakers forward Brandon Ingram made a 3-pointer in the final second for a 107-104 win, ending a five-game losing streak.
The teams will also play Feb. 10 in Philadelphia.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 28, 2019