Lakers can’t build on momentum as they fall to 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle fouls Lakers guard Russell Westbrook.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle fouls Lakers guard Russell Westbrook during the first half Wednesday at Arena.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

At the time, it seemed unnecessarily bold, the Lakers playing so-so basketball when Anthony Davis casually laid it all out in late November.

“We could go on a 10-game winning streak, 12-game winning streak,” Davis said after the Lakers lost to the Sacramento Kings, “now the narrative is different.”

The narrative, months later, hasn’t changed.

Since Davis’ statement, the Lakers have had only three winning streaks, momentum impossible to come by in a season that has become more and more hopeless as the season progresses.


They won two in a row right after Davis’ proposition. Later, they’d win three in a row before winning four straight in early January.

And since? Nothing.

That was 75 days ago.

“I don’t pay any mind to it,” Russell Westbrook said.

For a franchise that once won 33 in a row, the inability to string even two wins in a row could soon be season-ending. With the Lakers, at best, headed for the back end of the NBA’s play-in tournament, they’ll need to win consecutive games first to even make the playoffs.

D.J. Augustin did not miss a shot during the Lakers’ 131-120 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday night. He credits LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

The latest quest for consecutive wins happened Wednesday night against Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers. And despite plenty of fight — a trait that has moved to the surface particularly in the last week, the Lakers walked off the court with 126-121 loss at Arena.

The team’s last 11 wins have been immediately followed by a loss. The San Antonio Spurs, one of the teams chasing the Lakers, won Wednesday to put them two games back.

If they make it, Frank Vogel said, their inability to streak this season won’t be an issue, because hopefully Davis will be on the court.

“We’re looking at who we’re going to be,” Vogel said.

Wednesday, the Lakers were underdogs — and that was even before the team ruled LeBron James out because of a sore left knee.

“Played three games in four nights — lot of minutes,” Vogel said of James’ recent trip. “There’s enough soreness to keep him out.”

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid defends against Lakers guard D.J. Augustin.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid defends against Lakers guard D.J. Augustin during the first half on Wednesday at Arena.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The next Lakers game is Sunday in New Orleans, giving James five days of rest on an issue that he has wrestled with since the end of January.

“If he can be in there,” Vogel said, “he wants to be in there.”

James’ only impact Wednesday came between the first and second quarters, when he received a standing ovation for passing Karl Malone on the NBA’s all-time scoring list following a tribute video.

Otherwise, he was on the bench sitting next to Davis and watching the Lakers play against one of the best teams in the East while trying to sustain some of the good vibes from their recent trip, when they won two of the final three games.

Stanley Johnson, a player who wasn’t even on the Lakers when Davis made his early season observation, opened the game by hitting five consecutive shots in the first half, including a trio of three-pointers.

Johnson was part of another new Lakers’ starting five — their 35th of the season including Westbrook, Wenyen Gabriel, Austin Reaves and Dwight Howard.

Talen Horton-Tucker also sat out his second straight game because of an ankle injury.

Jeff Pearlman’s book on the Showtime era Lakers is the basis of a TV series on HBO, but the show “Winning Time” follows a different path from the book.

The lineup spoke to in-season adjustments the Lakers have needed to make, their team relying on a two-way player, an undrafted rookie and an in-season free agent to round out their best lineup while a handful of veterans sat on the bench.

“It’s not ideal, but this is coaching in the NBA. You stumble on the guys that you feel best about, who give you the best chance to win,” Vogel said before the game. “And that’s where we’re at. Everybody in the locker room only wants what’s best for the team and for us to win, so everybody’s pulling in the same direction.”

Making shots and playing with pace, the Lakers led by six early before the 76ers talent eventually helped them pull away.

As Embiid stepped to the line early in the third about to score his 20th point, a brief “MVP” chant began before Lakers fans quickly drowned it out with boos.

Philadelphia led by as many as 14 before the Lakers surged late in the third.

Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony hit threes, Howard finished around the basket and Malik Monk gave the Lakers great energy and electrified the crowd with a reverse dunk — the run closing the gap to two heading into the fourth.

Howard and Westbrook scored 24 each, Monk had 23 and Anthony had 20 for the short-handed Lakers.

“We’re making progress,” Vogel said after the win. “We’re building the habits that are going to win for us in the postseason and we’re continuing to grow.”

Westbrook even moved past Elgin Baylor to No. 32 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, receiving cheers from the crowd when the achievement was celebrated on the scoreboard. His late-game steal and score gave the Lakers some last gasps of hope.

But it was all too late — too many empty possessions and not enough defense to stop Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey, who combined for 75 points.

And the Lakers were forced to wait, again, for a streak worth celebrating.