Philadelphia 76ers' at Los Angeles Lakers: NBA analysis
LeBron James and Joel Embiid are missing, but we could learn a lot about NBA champions the Lakers and contenders the 76ers on Thursday.
The Philadelphia 76ers' trip to the Los Angeles Lakers is not quite the blockbuster clash it might have been, but Thursday's game should prove no less intriguing.
Rather than seeing MVP candidates Joel Embiid and LeBron James battle it out at Staples Center, the Sixers and the Lakers will attempt to show how they can cope without their leading men.
Embiid has been on the sidelines since March 12, over which time Philly have gone 5-1, but they crucially have the benefit of Ben Simmons, their second All-Star now fit and firing.
LA do not have the same luxury, as Anthony Davis is also out, with the team beaten by the Atlanta Hawks as James went down and again in his absence in Tuesday's game with the New Orleans Pelicans.
This could still be an NBA Finals preview, though, and the matchup will undoubtedly draw plenty of interested eyes...
Los Angeles Lakers - Dennis Schroder
Schroder was a Sixth Man of the Year contender last year - missing out to now team-mate Montrezl Harrell - but now finds himself as the most important player in the champions' team with both James and Davis out.
The point guard has started all but four of LA's games this season, his absence coinciding with a four-game losing streak.
Defeat on Thursday would mean another stretch of four straight defeats and it will be up to Schroder to ensure that does not happen.
Coach Frank Vogel talked up Schroder's importance after the Hawks game and his 15 points against the Pelicans maintained his seasonal average at the same mark, third-most for the Lakers behind their big two.
Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons
As the only remaining All-Star in this clash between two of the league's top teams, Simmons will be expected to make the difference.
The former first overall pick has previously been tasked with guarding James but should be freed in the absence of superstar opponents, perhaps able to focus his efforts instead on scoring and creating shots for others.
In a strange quirk, Simmons' four best scoring games this season have come in defeats. Fifth on that list, however, is the win against the Golden State Warriors last time out when he put up 22.
One of his four triple-doubles this season came in the previous game against the Lakers.
KEY BATTLE - CAN LAKERS HALT HARRIS?
That sole other matchup between the teams this season was settled by Tobias Harris' 15-footer with three seconds remaining as he switched onto the more diminutive Alex Caruso.
Harris' 10-for-16 shooting in that game was vital and the Lakers, without their best defender in Davis, must more effectively guard the forward.
While Simmons is the star name in this encounter, Harris is second only to Embiid on the Sixers with a career-high 20.8 points per game this year.
The Lakers will at least know to pay attention to Harris in 'clutch' moments, his two points in February among 71 this season that have him 18th in the league in such situations.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Lakers have the slight edge in the teams' all-time regular season record with 146 wins to the Sixers' 138 going back to their respective beginnings in Minneapolis and Syracuse.
Philly's dramatic 107-106 success earlier this year was their fifth meeting with LA since James moved to the Western Conference outfit, in which time the Sixers are 4-1 - albeit the four-time MVP missed the first defeat.
Embiid has only faced the Lakers six times, with a 4-2 record. LA are 4-3 in the seven Philly's main man has missed in his time in the league.
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