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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Lakers can’t build momentum as they fall to 76ers

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At the time, it seemed unnecessarily bold, the Lakers playing regular basketball when Anthony Davis casually laid it all out in late November.

“We could have a 10-game winning streak, a 12-game winning streak,” Davis said after the Lakers lost to the Sacramento Kings, “now the narrative is different.”

The narrative, months after heading into the last week of March, is no different.

Since Davis’ declaration, the Lakers have had just three winning streaks, a boost impossible to come by in a season that has become increasingly desperate as the season has gone on.

They won two in a row right after Davis’ proposal. They would later win three in a row before winning four in a row in early January.

And from? Nothing.

That was 75 days ago.

For a franchise that once won 33 in a row, the inability to string together even two wins in a row could soon end the season. With the Lakers headed to the final portion of the NBA play-in tournament, they’ll need to win back-to-back games first to make the playoffs.

The last quest for back-to-back wins occurred Wednesday night against Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers. And despite much fighting, a trait that has surfaced particularly in the last week, the Lakers walked off the court with a 126-121 loss at Crypto.com Arena.

The team’s last 10 wins have been immediately followed by a loss.

On Wednesday, the Lakers trailed, and that was even before the team ruled out LeBron James because of sore left knee.

“I played three games in four nights, a lot of minutes,” Frank Vogel said of James’ recent road trip. “There’s enough pain to keep him out.”

The Lakers’ next game is Sunday in New Orleans, giving James five days off for an issue he has wrestled with since late January.

“If he can be there,” Vogel said, “he wants to be there.”

James’ only impact on Wednesday came between the first and second quarters, when he received a standing ovation for surpassing Karl Malone on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after a video tribute.

Otherwise, he was on the bench sitting next to Davis and watching the Lakers play one of the best teams in the East while trying to keep some of the good vibes from their recent trip in which they won two of the last three games.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid defends against Lakers guard DJ Augustin.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid defends against Lakers guard DJ Augustin during the first half on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena. (Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Stanley Johnson, a player who wasn’t even on the Lakers when Davis wondered what things would look like once the Lakers won 10 straight, opened the game with five straight shots in the first half, including a trio of 3-pointers.

Johnson was part of another new Lakers starting five — the 35th of the season — including himself, Russell Westbrook, Wenyen Gabriel, Austin Reaves and Dwight Howard.

Talen Horton-Tucker also missed his second straight game with an ankle injury.

The lineup discussed the adjustments during the season the Lakers had to make, their team relying on a two-way player, an undrafted rookie and a season-long free agent to round out their best lineup while a handful of veterans sat on the bench. . .

“It’s not ideal, but this is coaching in the NBA. You run into the guys that you feel the best with, that give you the best chance to win,” Vogel said. “And that’s where we are. Everyone in the locker room just wants the best for the team and for us to win, so they’re all pulling in the same direction.”

Making shots and playing with pace, the Lakers led by six before the 76ers’ talent finally helped pull them away.

As Embiid approached the line early in the third quarter about to score his 20th point, he began a brief chant of “MVP” before the Lakers fans quickly drowned him out with boos.

Philadelphia led by as many as 14 before the Lakers resurfaced late in the third.

Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony hit 3-pointers, Howard finished around the basket and Malik Monk gave the Lakers some serious energy and electrified the crowd with a reverse dunk — the run closing the gap to just two before the fourth.

Westbrook even moved past Elgin Baylor to No. 32 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, drawing cheers as the accomplishment was celebrated on the scoreboard.

The Lakers couldn’t hold it, though: too many empty possessions and too little defense to stop Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey. All three scored over 20.

And the Lakers were forced to wait, again, for a streak worth celebrating.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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