With the deck stacked massively against them, the Lakers had a valiant showing throughout Wednesday’s contest against the Sixers but never had the firepower to keep pace with Joel Embiid, James Harden and one of the East’s best teams as they fell 125-121.
Impressively, Dwight Howard tied for the team-high with 24 points and eight rebounds against Embiid. Russell Westbrook matched him with 24 points while Malik Monk had 23 points and Carmelo Anthony 20 off the bench.
Four Sixers scored at least 20 points with Embiid leading all scorers with 30 while adding 10 points. That performance wasn’t enough for him to pass LeBron for the lead in the scoring race. Tyrese Maxey and James Harden had 21 and 24 points, respectively.
A knock on the team throughout the season has been waning effort, though that has been less of a problem over the last week. On a night when LeBron James joined Anthony Davis on the sideline, the expectation was of one of a blowout against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Impressively, the Lakers fought from start to finish even as they were clearly shorthanded, something that may or may not be attributed to former Lakers great Sasha Vujacic being in attendance.
Stanley Johnson was the man of the hour in the opening frame, pouring in 13 points in the quarter as the Lakers led by three going into the second period. A sign of how quickly things spiraled, though, was that Johnson did not score in the second quarter and still led the team in scoring at halftime.
Joel Embiid, predictably, proved to be a force too strong for the supremely shorthanded Lakers to handle. While Dwight Howard had a good showing, he also was limited due to foul trouble. With no Anthony Davis or LeBron James to play center, the Lakers were forced to go small to ill effect.
Still, the most impressive attribute from the Lakers was their willingness to keep fighting. After things looked like they were starting to get away in the second quarter, the Lakers came out and held serve in the third quarter, not allowing the margin to grow any larger.
Part of that was Malik Monk catching fire to help match Embiid and James Harden. Part of that was a continued effort from the Lakers that never waned. Russell Westbrook’s 3-pointer, Monk’s breakaway dunk and Wenyen Gabriel’s buzzer-beating layup pulled the hosts to within two heading into the third quarter after trailing by as many as 14 in the period. In total, it was a 14-4 run by the Lakers to close the frame.
The Sixers steadied the ship in the fourth and the Lakers never got closer the rest of the way. Even as the Lakers sputtered out of steam down the stretch they kept it competitive, most notably keeping Embiid in check in the fourth. It was a mixture of Harden and Tyrese Maxey as well as some Tobias Harris that buried the Lakers down the stretch, but only in the final minute as the Lakers took the game down to the final possessions.
The Lakers now have an extended break with their next game coming on Sunday against the Pelicans in New Orleans. The game will tip at 4 p.m. PT and will be available on Spectrum SportsNet.