For a while the Lakers hung with the Philadelphia 76ers, matching their scoring outburst.
But a lack of defensive intensity ultimately hurt them too much against a team built for a championship run. Joel Embiid scored 37 points and the 76ers beat the Lakers, 143-120 on Sunday.
“They had 70 points in our paint,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We talk about our shell defense, our rotations, protecting and then recover out. And we just didn’t do it. Guys stayed hugged to their man. There’s times Embiid just dribbled the ball the length of the court and dunked. … That’s not the type of team we want to be.”
Outside of Ben Simmons, who made only three of 13 shots, the 76ers starters — Embiid, Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick and former Clipper Tobias Harris — made 66% of their shots and scored 95 points.
The defensive breakdowns wasted a big night by Kyle Kuzma, who scored 39 points, 23 of them in the biggest first quarter of his career.
“We just had too many breakdowns, way too many breakdowns,” said LeBron James, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. “I mean we scored the ball as well as you can score the ball, especially in that first quarter, but we gave up too many paint points. We didn’t keep the floor shrunk and make them make many outside jumpers to begin the game, and once they started getting to the paint it kind of opened up everything else.”
The Lakers (28-28), coming off a post-trade deadline high in a win at Boston, made 56% of their shots in the first quarter, but the new-look 76ers matched them. The game was tied at 61 with four minutes left in the second quarter, but the 76ers pulled away as the Lakers struggled to contain their big men. L.A. dropped to 2-3 on its season-high six-game trip.
“Getting [Lonzo Ball] back into the mix is going to be one thing,” Kuzma said. “He’s had a hell of a season defensively and we kind of feed off of him. He’s picking up 94 feet, getting stops all over the floor, making great defensive instincts.
“Regardless of not having him or not, still no excuse. We as a team we just have to play defense, it’s all about effort, communication and getting the new guys to get into it as well.”
Bullock had two points in 31 minutes and Mike Muscala, who played for the 76ers just last week, had eight points in his Lakers debut.
Simmons wants Magic tips
Magic Johnson said Simmons reached out to him through the Lakers to ask for tips on playing point guard at his size. Simmons is 6-foot-10, one inch taller than Johnson.
Johnson attempted caution when discussing Simmons’ request.
“I said, ‘Hey you got to clear it with the league,’ and if everybody on the Sixers sign off, we sign off, the league sign off that’s not nothing going on but he wants to play the position as a big guard … fine, I will do that,” Johnson said. “But if everybody doesn’t sign off then we can’t get together. But I love his game, I love his vision, I love also too, he’s very, in terms of basketball IQ, very high basketball IQ.”
The Lakers were fined $500,000 for tampering with Paul George while he played for the Indiana Pacers. They were fined $50,000 for another violation when Johnson made complimentary statements about Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli