We’ve reached the quarter mark of the NBA season, and it’s no surprise to see the Los Angeles Lakers sit atop the Western Conference. What few expected, however, was to see the Philadelphia 76ers in first place in the East. Led by new coach Doc Rivers, Philly has clicked on all cylinders so far and vaulted to the top of the standings as a result. While there is still plenty of basketball left to be played before we have any idea what the postseason picture will look like, it was the 76ers that got the best of the Lakers in what some considered to be a potential Finals preview on Wednesday night.
The 76ers have been the class of the East to this point behind Joel Embiid’s MVP-caliber season and he put up impressive numbers once again against Los Angeles finishing the 107-106 victory with 28 points and six rebounds. He had plenty of help however as it was Tobias Harris who came up clutch hitting the game-winning jumper with just seconds remaining to give him 24 points on the night. Ben Simmons also chipped in a triple-double of his own. Philadelphia has now won four of their past five games and continue their streak of lights out play at the Wells Fargo Center (10-0).
Unfortunately, that means that the Lakers’ impressive run of going a perfect 10-0 on the road has come to an end. Led by their own MVP, LeBron James put together another great night finishing with 34 points, six rebounds and six assists but in the end it wasn’t enough to slow down a Sixers team that jumped out to an early lead and closed the door on the Lakers in the fourth quarter after Los Angeles tried to rally late.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Harris rescues Sixers, keeps up hot streak
With exactly six minutes left, Danny Green scored inside off a feed from Ben Simmons to give the Sixers a 14-point lead, and it seemed like they were on track to cruise to an impressive win over the defending champions. Only they completely stalled out after that point.
In fact, after a bucket by Anthony Davis, they were down by one with 11 seconds to play. That’s when Tobias Harris stepped up. The Sixers ran a little pick-and-roll with Harris and Seth Curry, and after the Lakers switched Harris had the mismatch with Alex Caruso.
He drove left, created a little space and drained the jumper to save the Sixers. Harris finished with 24 rebounds and seven rebounds on the night to continue a red-hot January. He’s putting up 20.8 points and shooting 53.9 percent from the field this month, which is one of his best stretches in a Sixers uniform.
2. Tough fall for Embiid
On Monday, Joel Embiid sat out of the Sixers’ loss to the Detroit Pistons due to back tightness, which has been a nagging issue for him, both this season and at various points earlier in his career. He didn’t seem to be too hampered early in the game, however, scoring 13 points in the first quarter.
But during the middle of the third quarter, he was on the receiving end of a flagrant foul from LeBron James. The Lakers star put two hands on Embiid while he was in mid air, which caused the big man to lose his balance. Unable to brace himself, Embiid crashed hard to the deck, landing right on his back.
He eventually checked back in but was sporting a giant wrap on his back when he left the bench, and only scored six points the rest of the night. Hopefully, it will just be painful bruising rather than anything major, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward, especially given Embiid’s injury history.
3. Lakers’ supporting cast absent
One of the major reasons for the Lakers’ success this season is that they have such a deep team, and don’t have to rely on LeBron James and Anthony Davis to dominate every single night. Coming into Wednesday night’s game, their bench was fifth in the NBA in scoring at 38.8 points per game, and they often go 11 deep in their rotation.
This game, though, was the LeBron and A.D. show. Those two combined for over half of the Lakers’ points, scoring 57 on 21-of-40 from the field. Most nights that’s a recipe for success, but the help wasn’t there this time — at least not for most of the game.
While the Lakers’ supporting cast did start to step up in the fourth quarter, it ultimately proved too little, too late. Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso were the only other Lakers in double figures, and the entire bench combined for just 22 points.