This homestand has been less than kind to Los Angeles, as the Lakers lost their second game in a row, falling against the Philadelphia 76ers, 113-112. Joel Embiid was dominant, scroing 35 points, and his co-star James Harden was cool, calm and collected, scoring an efficient 24 points on 9-15 shooting.
And for the second game in a row, LeBron and the Lakers failed to execute down the stretch and lost to another above .500 team by a slim margin, falling to 19-24 on the season and a game and a half back of a play-in spot.
Earlier in the evening, it was another game, another starting lineup. L.A. rolled out their 24th starting lineup of the season, starting James, Troy Brown Jr. Juan Toscano-Anderson, Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder. The big lineup effectively outscored the Sixers 26-16 in the paint during the opening quarter. Thanks to Bron’s 16 points and Russ and Wenyen Gabriel being productive together during the non-LeBron minutes, Los Angeles was down by just one point after the first.
During the rest of the half, the Lakers were abysmal from three; the 26th-ranked three-point shooting team went 1-8 from deep and were looking at being down by eight at the halfway mark when suddenly the Russ/Bron combo caught fire. Russ hit the team’s lone three, connected with Bron on a highlight alley-oop, James converted a layup on a Russ assist and after a pair of Westbrook free throws, the Lakers left the first half with a 58-57 lead.
Starting the second half, both teams stayed evenly matched. They exchanged basket after basket until the closing minutes when Embiid and the Sixers went on an 8-0 run to close out the third and take a three-point advantage entering the final frame.
On a night with 23 lead changes, the victor would be the team that executed best late. On Sunday, that was the 76ers. With 1:23 remaining, George Niang hit a corner three to take a two-point lead and after a successful challenge on an out-of-bounds play, Philadelphia secured the basket and Embiid converted a layup. L.A still had a chance to pull off the upset. Troy Brown Jr. hit a corner three to make it a one-point lead for the Sixers with 37 seconds left, and after an Embiid miss, the Lakers had a chance to score on the final possession of the game. However, coach Darvin Ham opted not to call timeout and just play it out. It ended in a truly brutal attempt:
Westbrook couldn’t even get a legitimate shot up on their final possession of the night — it appears (and he believes) he may have been fouled — after an overall strong game off the bench, time ran out, and the Sixers were victorious, resulting in another frustrating loss during this homestand for the Lakeshow.
Los Angeles dropped the game, but James still made history during the first quarter when he scored his 38,000th points as he continues to chase Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Russell Westbrook was Mr. Triple double once again with 20 points 14 rebounds and 11 assists, and now has the most triple-doubles off the bench in NBA history.
Despite 41 games remaining, the pressure to string wins together and move up the rankings in the West is present. I won’t say these games are all “must-win,” but at a certain point, if the Lakers don’t catch up, the gap between those in the play-in picture and those out will grow beyond a game or two.
Dropping winnable games against teams with winning records like Philadelphia matters, but with their next game being against the 10-33 Houston Rockets, L.A. should be able to put a W on the win column on MLK Day.