LOS ANGELES — A showdown between a pair of the NBA’s legacy teams each trying to restore past glory, proved exciting, chaotic and incredibly entertaining, with the Philadelphia 76ers topping the Los Angeles Lakers 115-109.
At morning shootaround, Lakers coach Luke Walton drew a parallel between the teams’ respective rookie point guards, Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball. Walton highlighted their uncommon vision and willingness to prioritize creating opportunities for their teammates over creating for themselves.
But Wednesday’s game was dominated by the self-creators. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid abused defenders from his perch on the left block (among other locations), and Brandon Ingram attacked from the perimeter. Embiid scored an extremely efficient 46 points, collected 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists. Ingram also stuffed the stat line — 26 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Rookie big man Kyle Kuzma scored at the rim repeatedly with a mixed bag of nifty hook shots, aggressive driving layups for 24 points. Once again, he led the Lakers in fun.
Basketball is a funny game that will thumb its nose at prevailing trends. The Sixers have controlled the boards on the defensive end all season, while the Lakers have shown little propensity for collecting their own misses. On Monday, the Lakers bludgeoned the Sixers on the offensive glass with 22 offensive rebounds, the primary reason why they stayed in a game in which they shot only 38.9 percent from the floor. Six Lakers snagged at least three. The Lakers amassed 109 total field goal attempts — the most of any team in an individual game this season.
Early-season statistics can often be false prophecies, yet the Lakers entered the game as the league’s fourth-ranked defense — a vast improvement from last season when they finished dead last. Wednesday night began as more 2016-17 than 2017-18, as Philadelphia scored on 10 of its first 13 possessions with a steady stream of easy looks. The Lakers tightened some of the loose screws, applying more attention to the middle of the floor, but the Sixers executed a string of effective possessions late.
The Lakers led by a point as the game closed in on the four-minute mark. But Philadelphia ripped off five consecutive successful possessions, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Robert Covington and a layup by J.J. Redick courtesy of a sick pass across the floor from Embiid which gave the Sixers an eight-point lead.
Ball struggled again from the field, and spent the final 16 minutes of the game on the bench. For the eighth time in nine November games, he shot below 35 percent, logging a 1-for-9 night, with five rebounds and only two assists. On the defensive end, Ball handled his counterpart reasonably well when they matched up, anticipating the actions and movements of the like-minded facilitator (who has five inches on him).
Both Philadelphia and the Lakers project to improve considerably in the coming future, and Wednesday night’s game showed flashes of a promising future for each team. For the time being, the Sixers appear much closer.