Joel Embiid, Sixers hold off LeBron-less Lakers, 126-121

Joel Embiid, Sixers hold off LeBron-less Lakers, 126-121

James Harden scored 24 points and Joel Embiid had 30 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 126-121 on Wednesday night sans LeBron James.

Embiid and Harden returned to the Sixers’ lineup two nights after the team surprised the Eastern Conference by beating Miami despite playing without the two superstars. Philadelphia has won five of its last seven games behind a career-high 21 points from Tyrese Maxey.

“The team performed great,” Harden remarked. “We knew we could play better, particularly defensively. But we’ll take the win, and we need to keep improving in the remaining games until the playoffs.”

Because of James’ knee injury, the duel between NBA’s most prolific scorer and Philadelphia 76ers star Embiid had to be called off.

As a positive indicator for Embiid and Harden’s development as a unit ahead of the playoffs, Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers took heart in his team’s second-half performance behind their star forwards.

As a whole, things are going well because “they want to do it,” Rivers added. “They’re all over the place when it comes to executing things well. If you have two men who are dedicated to doing things correctly, you can count on them. It’s a challenge since there are still 22 games to go.”

Los Angeles’ supporting cast put out a valiant effort, with Dwight Howard scoring a season-high 24 points and Malik Monk adding 23, but the Lakers fell to 11 games under.500 for the 11th time in 15 games (31-42).

It’s still our objective to win championships, says Stanley Johnson, who had 13 points in the win over Indiana. “For the play-in game and playoffs, we’re putting in the effort so that we’re ready and playing our best basketball. We didn’t win tonight, but we can build on the effort and put it to good use in the future.”

There is still a chance for the ninth-placed Lakers to make the playoffs, but they are already assured to finish last for the eighth time in nine years. Since they relocated to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960, the Lakers have experienced 53 consecutive seasons with at least one losing record.

Frank Vogel, the Lakers’ coach, stated that his team was making improvement. “Postseason success will be built on the habits we’re developing now and in the future. In spite of the defeat we suffered, the team that competed showed everyone that we still have a lot of grit left in us.”

The Lakers came within 93-91 coming into the fourth quarter, despite Philadelphia’s 14-point lead in the second half. Philadelphia held on in the final seconds because to clutch jumpers from Maxey and Tobias Harris after Los Angeles had centered its defense on Joel Embiid.

A steal and a jumper by Russell Westbrook with 32 seconds remaining reduced Philadelphia’s advantage to four points before Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points for Los Angeles in the last minute.

TIP-INS

In his return to the 76ers after three weeks on the Lakers’ waiver wire after a disastrous stint in Los Angeles, veteran center DeAndre Jordan recorded nine points and seven rebounds. On Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Los Angeles Clippers before facing the NBA’s top-ranked Phoenix Suns.

Talen Horton-Tucker missed his third game in a row due to an injured left ankle for the Lakers…. Since the 2013-14 season was the most recent time the Lakers had 35 players in their starting lineup, Johnson filled in for James’ absence. … Cooper Kupp and his wife, Anna, sat courtside to witness the game. While Aaron Donald and Matthew Stafford were able to catch the Lakers for Kupp, the Lakers were not able to win for Kupp…. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has overtaken Elgin Baylor to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Since returning from injury, James has averaged 33.1 points, 8.9 boards, and 7.0 assists per game in the last eight games for the Lakers as they chase the playoffs. During that time, James also became the NBA’s second-leading scorer.

And even though Vogel said that James’ absence wasn’t done purposefully, the move offers him five days free before the Lakers’ game against the 10th-place New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, a game that might be very crucial for the Lakers’ playoff prospects.

After the first quarter, James received a commemorative film for surpassing Karl Malone on the NBA’s all-time scoring chart. During the ovation, James, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, waved. The Sixers sealed the deal with a pair of free throws. Nine of Harris’ 20 points came in the final frame.