Top Takeaways from Harden, Embiid, 76ers' Win vs. Lakers with LeBron James Out

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2022

Top Takeaways from Harden, Embiid, 76ers' Win vs. Lakers with LeBron James Out

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers gave all they could without LeBron James on Wednesday night, but they still fell short in a 126-121 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers

    Joel Embiid was outstanding once again with 30 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three assists. James Harden added 24 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as Philadelphia earned its fourth win in the last five games.

    The 76ers (45-27) are now just 1.5 games behind the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference.

    The Lakers (31-42) are heading in the other direction, sitting in ninth in the Western Conference with just a half-game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans for the final spot in the play-in tournament. 

    LeBron was out resting his knee, but Russell Westbrook was one of four players with at least 20 points in the loss. After trailing by as many as 14 points earlier in the game, Los Angeles cut the margin down to a single possession in the fourth quarter before falling short.

    The Lakers still haven't won consecutive games since early January, but the late-game battle showed head coach Frank Vogel and this squad aren't giving up on the season. 

Support Around Joel Embiid Makes 76ers a Title Threat

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Joel Embiid might be a top contender to win his first MVP award this season, but he is no longer carrying the 76ers by himself.

    The center was certainly outstanding in Wednesday's win, filling up the stat sheet while finishing with an efficient 11-of-19 mark on the floor. The contributions on both ends helped the 76ers pull out a win against a talented opponent.

    Philadelphia is still in a different situation from earlier in the season when it seemed Embiid needed a superhuman effort for the team to win.

    James Harden has helped take pressure off Embiid with his ability to score from the perimeter, reaching 20 points for the ninth time in 12 games with the Sixers. Even finishing 1-of-6 from three-point range against the Lakers, opponents are still forced to respect the outside shooting, clearing room in the post.

    The squad also continues to get quality contributions from Tyrese Maxey, who is now averaging 17.5 points per game on the year. The second-year guard was especially effective in the fourth quarter, when he scored eight of his 21 points. 

    With under five minutes left, Maxey got a bucket and a three-pointer on consecutive possessions to help the 76ers expand their lead from four to nine. These are winning plays and Embiid wasn't needed.

    With Maxey, Harden, Tobias Harris and others, Philadelphia finally has the tools to succeed even if Embiid isn't playing at his best. This is how championship teams operate, and it's a great sign for the team going forward.

Malik Monk Must Be Part of Lakers Future

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    The Lakers had just one player in the active rotation Wednesday who has a guaranteed contract for 2022-23: Russell Westbrook. 

    The Lakers had just one player in the active rotation Wednesday who should be a priority for 2022-23: Malik Monk.

    Though the team can keep Stanley Johnson and Austin Reeves, two players with non-guaranteed salaries next season, it's Monk who continues to impress after joining the team on a minimum salary in the offseason.

    The guard is averaging 13.1 points per game after scoring 23 off the bench against Philadelphia. The team was plus-six with Monk on the court, a team high in the five-point loss. It's been a theme this season, with the Lakers plus-0.5 points per 100 possession with Monk on the court, per Basketball Reference. Of the 18 players with at least 100 minutes this season, only Monk and Austin Reeves have a positive mark. 

    On an aging roster, the 24-year-old brings youth and much-needed athleticism, which he showed with an early dunk after driving past James Harden and Joel Embiid. 

    His 38.9 percent outside shooting is also valuable on a roster that has limited shooters.

    If the Lakers can successfully trade Westbrook and his $47 million player option in the offseason, the roster would be left with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn ($5.3 million player option), four players who were out with injuries.

    Monk showed in their absence that he can be a key part of the roster. Though his salary will likely go up in the offseason, he must be a priority in the offseason. 

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