By Michael Donovan
Remember the 2017 NBA draft lottery?
You know, it was the night that the Sixers snagged the right to draft Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick and the Lakers had to settle for Lonzo Ball at 2.
As Magic Johnson danced from his seat on stage at the NBA draft lottery this year, Sixers’ center Joel Embiid sat next to him stone-faced.
Had the Lakers’ pick fallen out of the top three, it would have belonged to the 76ers. Instead the Lakers kept their pick, and took Ball with it.
Embiid got the next laugh, though.
On Wednesday night he dominated the Lakers, as the 76ers beat them 115-109 at Staples Center. The Lakers fell to 6-9 while Philadelphia improved to 8-6.
Embiid scored a career-high 46 points, making 14 of 20 shots. Embiid also shot 19 free throws and made 16 of them. He became the first player with at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks since blocks became an official statistic in the 1970s, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Julius [Randle] did a nice job on him the first time but Embiid is, he’s a handful down there,” Lakers coach Luke Walton told the LA Times. “You get a nice whistle it makes it a little more challenging. … He’s a heck of a shooter so it’s not like you’re gaining an advantage by sending him to the line.”
Walton then spent about a minute describing the different coverages the Lakers tried in order to slow Embiid before settling on a succinct summary of just why the 7-footer was so dominant.
“He’s a problem,” Walton said, practically sighing.
Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with a career-high 26 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Kyle Kuzma added a career-high 24 points, along with seven rebounds.
Ball made only one of nine shots, and none of his six three-point attempts. He finished with two points, five rebounds and two assists as he faced Ben Simmons, the front-runner for rookie of the year, who had 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
“Our guys played really well,” Walton said. “They played really hard. You gotta give Philly a lot of credit because they kept making those shots down the stretch.”
That the Lakers were in the game late was a minor miracle considering their shooting struggles. At halftime they had made 34.5% of their shots. By the end of the third quarter that improved to 36.3%. They finished the game having made 38.5% of their shots and just three of 27 three-point attempts.
Still, the Lakers stayed close. While the 76ers led by as many as 13 points in the first half, they never led by more than eight in the second.
Ball had what’s becoming a characteristic shooting night for the rookie. His one basket came in the second quarter on an odd layup attempt in which he hoisted the ball, underhanded, with his right hand as he drew contact with a 76ers player. On a possession in the third quarter, Ball missed a three-pointer, then stole the ball for a second chance, and missed that attempt too.
What changed in this game, though, was that his poor shooting seemed to affect the rest of his game.
“Usually I don’t let my shot affect me, but tonight I did,” Ball said. “Missed some layups. Just a bad night.”
Noticing Ball was having an off night, Walton kept him on the bench late in the second quarter and for the entire fourth quarter. A lineup that included Clarkson, Ingram, Kuzma, Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played most of the closing minutes. In the final minute, Walton put starting center Brook Lopez back into the game.
None of it, though, was enough to contain Embiid. Out of a timeout with the 76ers up four, Embiid put the game a little more out of reach with a layup.