The Sixers (28-19) hosted the Los Angeles Lakers (24-24) on Thursday. Philadelphia intended to push its winning streak to three games. Los Angeles hoped to build on its victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris combined for 49 points to power the Sixers to victory, 105-87.
Before we get to what I saw, I owe you some context.
Los Angeles was without the services of LeBron James (sore left knee) and Kendrick Nunn (bone bruise in right knee).
Sekou Doumbouya and Mason Jones were on Two-Way assignments with the Lakers’ G-League affiliate.
Frank Vogel started Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson, and Anthony Davis.
Philadelphia was without Seth Curry (sore left ankle) and Shake Milton (back contusion).
Paul Reed and Jaden Springer were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and was not available.
Danny Green returned after missing a handful of games with hip pain.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Before the game, Joel Embiid was named a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the fifth time in his career.
Hard to know what to make of it, but Embiid’s free throw shooting has not been as consistent as it’s been in years past. His conditioning evidently hasn’t been a problem, as he’s played 28 of the team’s last 29 games. That is arguably the best streak of availability in his career. It might make sense if Embiid was still struggling with the feel on the new ball if he hadn’t catapulted himself back into the MVP discussion with a torrid stretch of dominant scoring performances. Further, his three-point efficiency this season is the best of his six-year career. Perhaps it’s just a focus thing.
For the second game in a row, Tobias Harris got off to a hot start. From my view, his decision-making off the catch has gotten much better of late. He hit all three of his triples in the win over New Orleans, and all three were quick off the fingers. Harris hit a triple on his first touch, and he decided to let it rip before he even caught the ball.
Beyond the indicator that his three-ball is starting to come around, Harris’ speed off the dribble was quite encouraging. He’s been able to get downhill and pivot into different counter-moves quickly if individual defenders cut off his line. That’s something he was able to do against the younger, more athletic Spurs and Pelicans, too. Harris has been able to blow by isolated defenders in a way that he wasn’t able to for most of the season, as well. Hell, he couldn’t get around Luke Kennard a week ago.
Danny Green promptly buried a pair of threes within seconds of checking into the game for the first time since leaving the loss to Charlotte with hip pain. Green has a three-point attempt rate pushing 86 percent. He’s shooting above 38 percent from deep. Regardless of what the fans think of him, the Sixers need Green or someone who profiles similarly to him on offense. Embiid needs to have chuckers on the perimeter around him to maximize the spacing. Green simply gets triples up in bunches. More importantly, he makes them at a very high clip.
The Sixers were pushing the ball ahead in transition far better than they usually do. With Maxey on the floor, Philly was collecting defensive rebounds off the glass and pushing up the court on one pass ahead. Like a wide receiver running a route, Maxey caught the ball on the right side of the floor and was off to the races. There was at least one possession in which Maxey killed his dribble and shut the transition opportunity down. But, there were a number of possessions in which Maxey was able to create decent shots for the Sixers by putting downhill pressure on the basket.
Anthony Davis pretty much ate Joel Embiid up in the first half. Whether it was catching the big fella asleep on back-cuts, powering through contact for and-1s, or hitting expert-level shots over Embiid’s outstretched arms, Davis was locked into this matchup from the start. He even guarded the big guy on the other end of the floor, too, despite his well-documented unwillingness to play center. Davis went as far as stifling Embiid on a baseline jumper and rejected it towards the end of the half. It was pretty easily the best Davis has ever played in their head-to-head matchups.
I do wonder how much of that has to do with Embiid being fatigued. He mentioned after Tuesday’s victory that he’s had some trouble getting going lately because of fatigue. But, he also put it on himself to play through the dog days of the NBA’s regular season. Regardless, the fuel tank was evidently running a bit low in the first half. You have to wonder if maybe he gets Saturday’s matchup against the lowly Kings off.
Even without making his usual presence felt in the first half, Embiid ripped off some incredible passes on backdoor cuts. Most notably, Thybulle deposited a dunk off a left baseline dive. Embiid then rifled a cross-court rocket to Harris, who attacked a close-out for a dunk on the right baseline. That element of Embiid’s offensive arsenal really does get better seemingly every game.
Tyrese Maxey’s off-ball relegation has sneakily become more effective. Before, he was doing it with little purpose. Of course, it doesn’t really matter if your teammates don’t look your way at all. And that’s what happened at the beginning of the season. With that relegation away from the ball, and his teammates not trusting him, Maxey was essentially useless on the court by no fault of his own.
As his three-point shooting has improved and his ball-handling matured, his teammates are making the extra passes to him when they swing the ball. The Sixers acted upon one pick-and-roll in the third quarter by kicking to the weak side of the floor, attacking, and re-routing the ball to Maxey — who had relocated to the corner off a live-dribble pass — for a triple when the rock got stuck under the rim.
The trust his teammates have in him to make that shot is certainly the biggest development on that front. And that’s as much a credit to Maxey’s own growth as anything. He wasn’t known as a shooter coming into the league. I still don’t know that anyone would classify shooting as any of Maxey’s three foremost skills. But, it’s developed enough that the passes to him in the weak-side corner are a regular part of the offense now.
And Maxey has the freedom to decide what he wants to do. If the defense overplays instead of helping off, the second-year guard can attack the close-out and get to the rim. If they don’t respect his shooting and load the baseline near the rim, his shooting is consistent enough to make the opposition play. Regardless of the decision, the Sixers are at a point where Maxey floating to the corner is no longer 5-on-4 on offense.
Few things show that the opposition doesn’t pay attention to the scouting report quite like a guard attempting a three with Thybulle lurking within two arm length’s of the shooter. He caught another victim on Thursday, leaving Malik Monk feeling rejected.
The Sixers are always in need of a boost for late-game offense when the opposition makes a run. The primary culprit of their offense going quiet in crunch time is a lack of ball movement. But it was nice to see Harris rise to his contract in the fourth quarter, where he made a couple buckets to thwart any attempt the Lakers made at coming back in this one.
Carmelo Anthony got into a spat with a fan towards the end of the game. The fan was ejected. Seeing as Melo is a seasoned vet who has likely brushed off his fair share of horrid remarks, I can’t imagine the comment was of the benign variety. Be better, whoever you are.
The Sixers (29-19) will host the Sacramento Kings (18-32) on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.