Danny Green and Dwight Howard both received championship rings for their title-winning 2019-20 season with the Lakers before tip-off Thursday night at Staples Center.
Only one of them finished the game.
Howard was ejected, leaving the Sixers in a difficult position at center given the team was already without Tony Bradley after sending him to the Thunder in a trade for George Hill. Joel Embiid remained out with a left knee bone bruise, while Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis were also sidelined by injuries.
Green picked up Howard’s slack, scoring 28 points on 9-for-14 shooting in a 109-101 Sixers win that moved the team to 32-13.
Los Angeles cut a Sixers lead once as large as 18 points down to three late in the fourth quarter but couldn't complete the comeback. The Sixers' turnovers enabled the Lakers to make the final minutes dramatic. Green's three from the left corner with 30.6 seconds left sealed the game.
Tobias Harris recorded 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting, six rebounds and five assists. Ben Simmons had nine points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
The Sixers will stay in Los Angeles to play the Clippers Saturday night. Here are observations on their victory over the Lakers:
Sixers’ small ball works as Green stays hot
The Sixers opened without a traditional center. It wasn’t technically out of necessity, but head coach Doc Rivers has liked using Howard off the bench and stuck with that approach. Mike Scott started for the fifth time this season.
Scott’s jumper appeared very off when he tossed up two jumpers that missed the rim entirely, thudding off the backcourt. He had six points on 2-for-8 shooting, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 28 minutes.
The positives of playing small ball were the ability to switch everything defensively and the extra space available for Simmons. Though Simmons was aggressive early as a driver, he didn’t have much success around the rim. His first and only field goal came with 6:45 left in the third.
However, Simmons’ passing to the three-point shooters surrounding him was very valuable. The best among those shooters Thursday was Green, who’s now made 47.9 percent of his threes since the All-Star break.
Green’s job can sometimes look simple — convert open threes, play solid defense and complement star talent — but that’s a credit to him. While he was a logical candidate to move elsewhere at Thursday’s trade deadline because of his expiring $15.4 million contract, he should be a helpful player for the Sixers to have in the playoffs.
Howard tossed and Reed gets real minutes
Howard had a strong start, picking up six points on 3-for-3 shooting and two blocks in the first period.
That was the only quarter he played, though. Howard’s matchup against Montrezl Harrell featured plenty of trash talk and pushing. The officials decided to resolve the conflict by calling Howard for a second technical foul and ejecting him following a shoving exchange between the two big men after the first quarter.
“Clowns,” Rivers said on the TNT broadcast. “Guys just joking around. It’s ridiculous, on both parts. I didn’t like it, bottom line.”
Rivers has asked Howard to be an “agitator” for the Sixers, but he obviously didn’t want him being ejected from a game in which the Sixers were shorthanded at center. Howard pushed things too far, both literally and figuratively, although it’s puzzling why he was ejected and Harrell was not.
G League MVP Paul Reed, who was already in the rotation as a power forward next to Howard, ended up sliding over to center. The rookie was certainly not timid as he scrapped for rebounds, threw down a dunk and even picked up a technical after fouling Dennis Schröder at the rim.
Rivers used Harris and Simmons in his frontcourt during the third quarter before inserting Reed. Harris’ physical strength is a quality that gives the Sixers a little more defensive flexibility, and it was useful after Howard’s ejection. Reed converted a lefty layup off of a pick-and-roll with Shake Milton and continued to make a good impression with his energy and effort. He posted four points, three rebounds and and a steal in his first meaningful NBA action since the Sixers were depleted in mid-January by the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
What will change in rotation when Hill’s healthy?
Curry returned after missing the Sixers’ last three games with a left ankle sprain and scored 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
His shot looked just fine, as is usually the case. The 30-year-old made two early three-pointers, including a nice step-back jumper, and had a nifty left-handed pass in the third period that set up Simmons’ basket.
Rivers said pregame that Hill will probably come off the bench for the Sixers, though he’s not sure yet. He’ll have time to consider how the veteran guard fits in the rotation, since Hill is out after having surgery on his right thumb.
“We have what Oklahoma City represented to us, which is that he’s fine,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said. “He’s obviously going to be full tilt by the playoffs — I don’t say that because he won’t be back earlier. Our medical staff hasn’t hasn’t had a chance to evaluate him yet ... I don’t want to give a timeline, but it’s not long. He had an issue where he chose to have surgery on it so that it will never be an issue again. I think that pushed out his recovery but once he’s back, apparently it will be something that never bothers him again. We’re very optimistic about him going forward medically.”
It sounds like Curry will stay a starter, although perhaps there will be situations in which Rivers prefers Hill as an end-of-game option because he’s a better, more versatile defender.
On a related note, it would make sense if Hill’s presence led to Furkan Korkmaz falling out of the rotation. Korkmaz doesn’t seem likely to play over any of Hill, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Howard, especially in the context of Morey valuing Hill’s defensive skills and wanting the Sixers to be elite on that end of the floor.
“… We feel like if we’re going to win the title, we have to be the best defense in the league,” Morey said. “Right now I think we’re No. 2; I believe we’re going to finish the season No. 1. We felt like George solidified that. Teams often will attack your weakest defender on the floor, and we had quite a few lineups where there was an option for the other team to attack.”