Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) made their annual visit to Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers (28-16) on Thursday. Philadelphia was looking to push their winning streak to four games. The Lake Show was looking to snap a three-game losing streak. Danny Green, with eight of his own, led a 17-triple performance for the Sixers in a 109-101 victory over the Lakers.

Before we get to the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Seth Curry returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained left ankle. Rivers started Ben Simmons, Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Mike Scott.

After acquiring George Hill and Ignas Brazdeikis at today’s trade deadline, the Sixers were obviously without Hill and Brazdeikis, as well as Tony Bradley, Terrance Ferguson, and Vincent Poirier (all traded).

Before the game, Green and Dwight Howard received their 2020 championship rings from the Lakers.

The Lakers were without LeBron James (sprained right ankle), Anthony Davis (strained right calf), and Jared Dudley (torn right MCL). Frank Vogel started Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and Marc Gasol.

First Half

Ben Simmons struggled mightily in the first quarter. He could not find the space to get close to the rim on the extra step and missed a variety of shots around the basket as a result. To add to the dread, he turned the ball over twice in the opening frame. While he ultimately needs to be better against the league’s best teams, I have to point out that the Lakers were funneling him to the rim to go up against Gasol. Given Gasol’s size and mass, it’s certainly not an easy matchup to find a favorable angle to exploit at the rim.

“I’ve focused on it since I came back from the COVID absence.”

This season’s development in bizarre Sixerdom is that they have multiple players who enjoy taking shots from well beyond necessary range. Dwight Howard likes to stand at least a foot’s length behind the free throw line when he steps up for his freebies. Now, Curry is attempting his triples from multiple feet beyond the three-point line. If he’s more comfortable from out there, more power to him. But, he rarely ever toes the line on his attempts.

It puts a lot of strain on the upper body and the legs to get the ball to the rim at the distance from which Curry elevates. But, he came back from his ankle injury and splashed a pair of deep balls in the opening quarter. The ankle did not seem to bother him too much, as he created space with a hip fake and then stepped back hard to the left before knocking down one of them.

Curry claims that it is intentional. “I’ve focused on it since I came back from the COVID absence,” Curry said. “Just kind of evaluating my shots early on in the season and I feel like I can help our offense, help myself get into the lane more and get a little bit more time to shoot the ball if I take one or two steps back. So, one thing, one of our assistant coaches, Babcock, has been just reminding me to just take one extra step because, to me, it’s kind of like shooting the same shot as toeing the line but getting more space.”

Whatever works.

Paul Reed registered a handful of minutes in the first half. I was very encouraged by his feel for offensive rebounding. He was able to find angles around the rim and beat the Lakers out to defensive rebounds. He even logged a bucket as a diver on a pick-and-roll. The Sixers’ depth at the four and five is so poor right now that there’s no reason he can’t log a few minutes where needed every night.

“Mike just struggled to shoot the ball tonight.”

Mike Scott seems to have regressed back to missing shots so long that he’s bruising the opposite side of the backboard. It’s eventually going to approach a point where he’s just out of the rotation. He’s unproductive on the defensive side and a regular minus on the offensive side.

I do genuinely wonder if maybe he has some sort of vision problem. I understand how this question could come off as rhetorical or sarcastic. But, Ricky Vaughn threw absolute heat but lacked control. That is, until he started pitching with glasses. His control issue was completely mitigated as soon as he did what was needed to improve his vision. I wonder, given the degree to which he misses shots, whether maybe there is something vision related that could be improved upon and help him if he’s not seeing the basket as well as he possibly could. I have no idea if such is the case, and I don’t want to speculate, but I am genuinely curious if there is something to look into there.

Rivers thinks it’s simpler than that. To be fair, he’s probably right. “Mike just struggled to shoot the ball tonight,” Rivers said. “But, did a lot of other good things. His threat was what allowed us to get the lead, though, because when you pull that five out of the paint, that’s where we got all the drive attacks. I thought that was good for us.”

Superman Gets Tossed

Scott was forced into an extended role as a small-ball center in this game. Dwight Howard was ejected after instigating some mischief with Montrezl Harrell in the first quarter. Howard has been a model veteran this season. But, he clearly regressed to his childish ways, if even for a brief moment. It certainly wasn’t ideal to lose the only legitimate center available, but it was a weak ejection. That leads me to my next point—NBA officials are the devil. There’s no way three technical fouls should be issued in the span of five minutes during the first half of a game that tipped off at 10 PM EST.

“What are you going to do to help a team win a game? That was Ben tonight, for sure.”

As the first half drew to a close, the Sixers weaponized Simmons as a screener. It enhanced his half-court playmaking out of the short roll. It proved effective, as Simmons found Green for a corner trifecta. That is something I would like to see the Sixers experiment with more often as the season goes on. He could be effective in that role with a lineup of Hill, Green, Harris, and Embiid. If Simmons buys into that and masters playmaking out of the short roll, the Sixers will have a new, repeatable layer to their crunch time offense in the playoffs.

Rivers talked about the importance of Simmons’ adaptability to different roles after the game. “They were waiting for him in the paint all day,” Rivers said. “I just thought, once we start screening, and then he receives the ball in the paint and now he’s a passer or driver. He had a tough game, though. He missed layups that he can’t miss, the seven turnovers. But, what I love about Ben is he still defends. He still does all the other things to help us win a game. It’s a great example, tonight. What If I took all your good things away? What are you going to do to help a team win a game? That was Ben tonight, for sure.”

Second Half

The Sixers had one of those rare quarters in which both Curry and Green were blazing hot from deep. The pressure they supply from the perimeter opened up the offensive flow for the Sixers. Even though they weren’t utilizing those vacated lanes, they were getting the ball to Curry in space. As a result, Curry was able to advertise some of that off-the-dribble shot-creating that he has publicly endorsed. When it wasn’t Curry stroking trifectas, it was Simmons catching the ball in space and operating as a passer around the lane. With the Lakers making it a point to cut off Simmons’ ability to face the basket to score, he was able to rack up the dimes to teammates on the perimeter.

Adapt Or Die

The Lakers started double-teaming Tobias Harris in the fourth quarter when he caught the ball in the post. Harris notably struggled with the post double-team late in the victory over the Knicks on Sunday. In this game, however, he handled it quite well. He was able to get himself in a position where he could see the entire court and avoid being blind-sided. When LA’s defense showed the double, it was a quick rifle out to the perimeter for an open triple. Harris post-ups can be a viable offensive option to close playoff games. But, he’s going to have to develop a fluidity in his reactions to being doubled.

The Sixers didn’t have to let this become a competitive affair. I suppose it’s good that they’re learning how to close games even when things abruptly stop going their way. Nonetheless, you don’t want to build bad habits. They have to consistently execute teams when they have them down on the ground, not let them back up.

The Sixers (32-13) will stay in Los Angeles to face the Clippers (30-16) on Saturday night. Tip-off is set for 10 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBA TV.