Sixers Out-Tanked by Lakers, Win by 2

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 118, Los Angeles 116 – Box Score

Entering play 3 games ahead of the Lakers in the standings, Sunday night was Philadelphia’s last chance to realistically fall behind the Lakers in the Great Tank War of 2016-17. Whether or not Los Angeles finishes 2nd or 3rd-worst overall in the standings means the difference between a 44.2% or 53.1% chance of that top-3 protected draft pick conveying to the Sixers this summer. Not to mention, there are lottery ball implications for every loss by the Sixers in this stage of the season. These are our great battles.

Philadelphia even pulled out the big guns, sitting Robert Covington with knee soreness to make sure the entire game was a no-defense affair by both sides. In the end though, you can’t hold a scrappy Sixers squad down.

Not when they have TJ McConnell, who has been called more clutch than Michael Jordan, making his only field goal of the game on a fadeaway jumper with 50 seconds left that put the Sixers ahead for good. Talk about saving it for when it really matters.

Or when Joel Embiid’s pick for Rookie of the Year, Dario Saric, is out there doing everything for the team once again, tallying a career-high 29 points by knocking down 3 of 7 shots from three, grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists. I wrote many words Saturday about how Saric is saving the end of this Sixers season from a watchability standpoint; they all applied Sunday night. Wonderful player, wonderful human being.

Filling in for the resting Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had the best game of his short NBA career, hitting 7 of 11 shots from the field for a career-high 18 points. TLC drained 2 of 4 from behind the arc and converted a number of difficult shots around the basket. He has a great knack of timing his cuts and getting open at the right moment heading to the hoop. His game keeps developing by leaps and bounds across this rookie season. First, he adjusted to the defensive side of the ball and now the offense is appearing on the scene. The Sixers look to have a keeper on their hands.

Even Jahlil Okafor got in the action, showing off against one of the two teams that decided to pass on him in the draft. Jah had an effective game offensively, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting, and mostly not playing painfully slow on that side of the ball to bog down the team’s action. The other side of the ball was business as usual for Jahlil, but it being a Lakers game, poor defensive effort fit right in out there.

Jordan Clarkson did everything in his power to get his team the victory, recording 30 points on 10-16 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists off the bench. Presumably, he wants no part of a top-3 pick coming in next year and stealing any more of his minutes. D’Angelo Russell, however, is the consummate team player. He drove lead tank by shooting 5-17 from the field and making the two biggest bone-headed plays of the game.

With 25 seconds left in the game and Lakers down 1, Russell completely forgot how much time was left on the shot clock coming out of a dead ball, in-bounds situation. As he casually dribbled away from the basket, he finally looked up and saw 1 second left on the clock, having to toss up a 30-footer which was no good. That was the last best chance for the Lakers to win the game, and even that play didn’t top this trainwreck of a play right before halftime.

My favorite part is Russell being so embarrassed that he starts blaming his teammates, as if they were the reason is starting playing soccer with the ball. That’s some next-level tanking.

With the Sixers victory, the Lakers seem increasingly likely to only finish ahead of Brooklyn in the standings. On the plus side, Sacramento has lost 8 straight and is now right ahead of the Sixers with the 6th-worst overall record. And the 2018 unprotected Lakers pick has a pretty good ring to it, should it come to that.

The Sixers will play at Golden State Tuesday night. I don’t think that one will be as close.

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