Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor, then flop in loss in Lakers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Los Angeles 107, Philadelphia 104 – Box Score

Remember during the early Process era when the Sixers would play hard against a clearly talented opponent, inevitably come up just short, and we would chalk it up as a moral victory? This week has been the opposite. Home games against the Suns and Lakers should have been counted as easy victories, with the Sixers continuing a surge up the Eastern Conference standings. Instead, Philadelphia has played its worst basketball of the season, leaving fans with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths that only comes when a talented team fails to play up to its potential.

Thursday night, facing a Lakers team that had lost five straight games entering play, the Sixers trailed by around 8-10 points for the majority of the evening. A lack of effort and dumb mental mistakes were to blame. Defensively, the Lakers consistently outworked the Sixers to loose balls (15 offensive rebounds for LA), and on the other end, Philadelphia gave the ball away far too often (18 turnovers, the majority of them unforced).

Finally, the Sixers got their act together in the fourth quarter, storming back from a 15-point deficit to tie the game late. Joel Embiid was the catalyst behind the comeback, as the Sixers worked the ball down low to him time-after-time. Not only was Embiid able to create his own offense, either by pirouetting on the interior for a lay-in or rising up for the mid-range jumper, but he had a nice chemistry with Richaun Holmes (the pair playing together against the two-big man lineup of the Lakers) and fed Richaun cutting down the lane for easy buckets. The final line for Embiid was 33 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 5 blocks. Philadelphia was +14 in the 36 minutes he was on the court; I’m not sure what more he could have done.

Unfortunately, waiting to fall behind by 15 points before playing well wasn’t the best of strategies. After exhausting a great deal of effort just to tie the game, the Lakers were still in a position to win it in the closing seconds. Lonzo Ball (10 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks) drove the ball along the baseline, drawing a crowd of blue-shirted defenders. He wisely kicked it out to Brandon Ingram (21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), who drained the wide-open, game-winning three with just 0.8 seconds remaining.

There have been last-second losses for the Sixers this season that made me sick to my stomach. This time around, it was the first three quarters or so of play that made me queasy. Philadelphia played terribly for about 40 minutes Thursday night and deserved the loss. They’ll have to do much better Saturday night on the road in Cleveland.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Ben Simmons had a triple-double after three quarters last night, eventually finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. First, it’s remarkable that a line like that from a rookie is somewhat of a footnote. Still, Ben didn’t really dominate the action like those counting stats might suggest. The Lakers were content to mostly let him do his thing and Simmons didn’t force the issue, evidenced by his only attempting two free throws on the game. It’s interesting to think about whether he’s being less aggressive after the intentional foul nightmare a few games back. Attack the rim, Ben! More of this!

  • Richaun Holmes was terrific off the bench, collecting 13 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes. On a night the Sixers needed a spark to break out of their lethargy, he provided it, fighting savagely for a couple contested offensive rebounds and finishing with a ferocity around the rim. I know Brett Brown likes Amir Johnson becomes he’s the more disciplined defender, but Holmes doesn’t deserve any more DNP-CD’s going forward.
  • The Sixers miss both a healthy T.J. McConnell (he returned against the Lakers but obviously wasn’t 100%) and the possibility of having Markelle Fultz out there. The team doesn’t have a secondary ball handler next to Ben Simmons to create in the half court. The task often falls to J.J. Redick, who looks overextended trying to make something happen. Redick had 4 turnovers last night, one of them very bad late where he lost the handle on a routine behind-the-back dribble. The Sixers are paying vets like Redick, Johnson, and Jerryd Bayless a lot of money to complement their young stars, and they let them down Thursday night.

Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor

Philadelphia made big headlines earlier in the day, finally trading former third overall pick Jahlil Okafor, along with Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick, to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker. The deal shows that both Okafor and Stauskas had zero value around the league (congratulations to Bryan Colangelo on waiting so long that a once third overall pick had zero value). Rather than cut them outright, Colangelo used them as matching salaries in a deal that was really about trading a second-round pick (originally the Knicks pick so likely to be in the 40’s) for Booker.

I’m glad we don’t have to pan to Jahlil looking sad on the end of the bench anymore. He deserves a chance to actually play some minutes and show prospective free agent suitors that he’s a viable NBA player. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t necessarily believe it, but time will tell.

Meanwhile, Trevor Booker is a fine player, a good defender and scrappy on the glass, but I’m not sure what a half season of him (he’s an unrestricted free agent after this year) is really supposed to accomplish. The Sixers have Embiid, Johnson, and Holmes at center, and Saric, Simmons (when he plays alongside T.J.), and Covington (in a stretch role) at power forward. If Colangelo felt the team needed to bolster their depth for a playoff run, I would have preferred another wing player.

With the Sixers owning a surplus of picks in the next couple years, we saw Colangelo last summer sell one away, and now use one for another fungible veteran like Trevor Booker. I just feel he could be more creative with those assets.

Anyway, Jah is freed, as are we all.

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