Since 1980, they’ve met in the NBA Finals four times.Earvin Johnson really became “Magic” when he took the court as a starting center. Julius Erving and Moses Malone validated Hall of Fame careers against the Lakers, Allen Iverson stepped over and Shaquille O’Neal dominated.
And Sunday night, the two teams met at Staples Center in a game that couldn’t have had less to do with that past.
Magic, A.I., Dr. J? The most important person in the Lakers’ and 76ers’ future might not have even been drafted yet.
With the Lakers out of contention for the postseason, Sunday’s contest was as much about the team’s 2017 first-round pick as it was about the 2016-17 final standings. And much like Thursday’s game in Phoenix, the Lakers’ effort Sunday didn’t reflect their last-place record.
But unlike that game in Phoenix, their execution did.
D’Angelo Russell airballed a last-minute three-point try while being confused about the shot clock,Julius Randle fouled Genrald Henderson while he was being cleanly double-teamed and Jordan Clarkson missed a key free throw all in the final 30 seconds of the Lakers’ 118-116 loss.
“The effort and the intentions were in the right place, which is a good start,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “The actual execution of it wasn’t good enough to win the game tonight.”
Randle had a chance to win the game at the buzzer but his half-court heave wasn’t close.
Russell’s late-game gaffe (earlier Sunday, he kicked the ball out of bounds without a defender in sight), came with both Walton and the second-year guard taking the blame.
Walton said the miscue was “on me” for not reiterating the situation in the timeout just prior to Russell’s airball.
“I would say it’s recognition — the shot clock and all that. I wasn’t aware tonight,” Russell said. “And, it cost us.”
Luckily for the Lakers, the result won’t have long-term ramifications when it comes to lottery odds, the tie that binds these two rebuilding franchises.
The 76ers will receive the Lakers’ first-round selection in this year’s NBA draft — one that scouts have loved for years — if the pick falls out of the top three. Philadelphia acquired the pick in a three-team deal that sent Michael Carter Williams to Milwaukee and Brandom Knight to Phoenix.
Maybe in an effort to keep that pick, maybe in an effort to spend more time assessing the young players on the roster, the Lakers fully leaned into a youth movement Sunday night.
Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgoy , the team’s high-priced veteran additions last summer, spent Sunday night in the locker room and on the inactive list. Nick Young, maybe the team’s most consistent outside threat, didn’t take off his warmup jacket, blowing massive bubblegum bubbles throughout the night.
Instead, it was Ivica Zubac and David Nwaba getting minutes complementing the Lakers’ young core in the starting lineup.
Zubac, making the second start of his young career, made an impact early, blocking four shots in the first quarter and making all four of his field-goal tries in the first half.
And Nwaba, who just signed his second 10-day contract with the team, scored four big points in crunch time while getting the Lakers’ bench off its feet after a massive basket-saving block.
Clarkson had one of his best games this season, scoring 30 points to go with eight assists and six rebounds. Randle attacked his way to 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Clarkson was especially good down the stretch, making up for a rushed Randle shot attempt by sinking an under-control spinning jumper on the next possession.
But the Lakers simply couldn’t defend well enough for long enough. Dario Saric led Philadelphia with 29 points and Jahlil Okafor finished with 23.
“We can be a lot better,” Randle said.