The Los Angeles Lakers were hoping to make it two wins in a row but lost a close and exciting contest to the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday night, 118-116. The 76ers were without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who would have battled it out for rookie of the year had they both stayed healthy.
Instead, it was another fantastic first year player, Dario Saric, who led his team to victory despite what might have been the best game of Jordan Clarkson’s career.
The 76ers will have their own first round pick this summer, which should be in the top five, and if the Lakers manage to fall out of the bottom three, they will also pick up the purple and gold’s top pick as
well. Combined with Embiid, Simmons and Saric, the future looks very bright indeed for the 76ers.
For the present, however, Philadelphia has been struggling, losers of eight of their last ten games. As it turned out, the Lakers non-existent defense was the perfect tonic for what ailed them.
Here are the top three takeaways from the game.
1. Jordan Clarkson had Arguably His Best Game Ever
Since Lou Williams was traded at the All Star break, Clarkson has been averaging over 19 points a game, the best number for anyone off the bench in the league. He outdid himself Sunday night however, tying his
career-high with 30 points while also adding eight assists and six rebounds.
Clarkson was an efficient 10-16 from the floor and 10-11 from the free throw line, which was a testament to how hard he played and how aggressive he was in attacking the paint.
On a night when D’Angelo Russell struggled, finishing with only 11 points on 5-17 shooting, the team needed every one of Clarkson’s points to stay in the game. He has become very skilled at driving to the
basket and scoring from a variety of angles and with both hands. In recent games, his free throw attempts are way up, which is also a good sign.
About the only negative right now is that Clarkson is still struggling to make his three point shots, which is likely to be the focus of his training regimen this summer. On the whole, however, Clarkson is playing very good basketball and when JC is going full steam he is an exciting player to watch.
2. Ivica Zubac Cracked the Starting Line Up
For most of the season, Coach Luke Walton stuck with the same starting line-up which included Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Nick Young. Shortly before the All Star break, with the Lakers out of the playoff hunt, Walton finally benched Mozgov and Deng and replaced them with two young players, Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black. The results were initially positive but the early energy faded and the losing resumed.
Against Philadelphia, the coaching staff tweaked the line up again and this time the starters averaged only 21 years of age. Ivica Zubac started at center, and in a surprise move, David Nwaba replaced Nick
Young who did not play at all.
Zubac got off to an auspicious start, blocking a career high four shots in the first few minutes of the game alone. He also connected on his first four shots from the floor including one from mid-range. However, he only played 19 minutes in all. In the third quarter, he was muscled on the inside by Jahlil Okafor, at which point Walton lost confidence and sent him back to the bench.
Still, Zubac looked impressive at times and deserves to stay in the starting lineup and get more minutes.
3. Brandon Ingram Played One Good Half
In recent games, Brandon Ingram has become a better shooter and more effective offensive threat, which is a very welcome sign. He is taking shots without hesitating and those shots are starting to fall. He is also finishing better at the rim.
Against the 76ers, he played 38 minutes and scored 12 points on 5- 9 shooting with three steals and two blocks. The problem, however, is that after a very good first half, Ingram allowed himself to shrink into the background and attempted only two shots in the last 24 minutes. He needs to stay aggressive for 48
Still, Ingram has looked like a different player since the All Star break. He has ups and downs, but he is looking far more comfortable and confident. There is a moment in every game when he does something very special. How Ingram finishes the season will be a key for the Lakers going into the offseason.