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Lakers suffer another disappointing finish against 76ers

James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers passes the ball past the defense of Thomas Bryant #31 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the first half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles past the defense of Wenyen Gabriel #35 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the first half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers passes the ball past the defense of Thomas Bryant #31 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after drawing a foul during the first half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Wenyen Gabriel #35 of the Los Angeles Lakers fouls Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

De’Anthony Melton #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles past the defense of Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers fouls James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Tyrese Maxey #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers makes a layup during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers have found themselves in a lot of thrillers lately. The problem has been the endings have been a lot less than thrilling.

With 13 seconds left, Russell Westbrook grabbed a defensive rebound off of a Joel Embiid miss that he helped force. The Lakers were down by a point. The stage was set for something spectacular to happen.

But the dream of an adrenaline-spiking victory over one of the NBA’s best teams quickly sank as Westbrook, not so much as giving a teammate a touch, drove baseline on Embiid – one of the league’s premier shot-blockers – and the ball flew right into the raised palms of Georges Niang for a game-ending turnover.

Westbrook later said in the locker room that he was attempting to shoot, but was obstructed by Embiid grabbing his right arm, then backed up his words by showing a handful of reporters a screenshot of the play on his phone: “I couldn’t get my hand up to shoot because he was grabbing it.”

Even if the Lakers get the validation of a forthcoming last two-minute report from the NBA, it will be a little comfort after dropping their third straight game. For the excitement of the nearly 48 minutes prior, it was a five-cent finish that fits these 19-24 Lakers well: All season long, the team has found itself on the losing end of tight games and dropped another one Sunday night in a 113-112 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers.

It again put a harsh spotlight on Westbrook, who with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists was one of the reasons the Lakers were in a position to win at all. He might have had a passing lane to Wenyen Gabriel, a great partner for him throughout the game with 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting. It was just the ninth turnover of the night for the Lakers, and Westbrook had shown a keen eye for finding receivers near the rim – but when it mattered, again the Lakers flat-lined.

Notably, Coach Darvin Ham said he had not considered calling a timeout in the final 13 seconds, preferring instead to allow Westbrook to make a play to win the game.

“Down one, you’ve got one of our best playmakers to the rim, one of our best finishers at the rim, has the ball with Embiid standing in front of him, I’ll take that scenario every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Ham said. “We just got to finish the play. That’s it. Make a harder, stronger move to the rim. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.”

The loss spoiled a 35-point, 10-assist performance for LeBron James, who passed the 38,000-point mark in the first quarter, but was sensational well beyond that point. James dealt his final assist with 37 seconds left for a Troy Brown Jr. 3-pointer that pulled the Lakers to within one point of the Sixers. Westbrook notably didn’t seem to look James’ way on the other side of the court when dribbling out the final seconds.

Philadelphia was led by 35 points from Embiid, an MVP candidate, whose final basket wound up providing the game-winning points. James Harden had 24 points.

One of James’ most impressive baskets came in the fourth quarter, when he split a double-team and spun to his right around Montrezl Harrell for a right-handed finish. It was the fifth time in James’ last nine appearances that he’s scored at least 35 points.

He was in no mood to acknowledge his scoring achievement.

“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “Getting in those positions and not being able to come out with the victory.”

The last time these teams met in Philadelphia, the Lakers erased a 12-point lead in the final 2½ minutes of regulation with defense and speed. While the Lakers didn’t have their own All-Star big man Anthony Davis to match up with Embiid, they elected to crank up the tempo even more with James and Westbrook smashing the accelerator.

The Lakers scored 18 points in transition (the Sixers had just five), including a handful of plays where the star duo directly connected. Toward the end of the first half, the Lakers were down by as much as eight points, but Westbrook and James fueled a 9-0 run: Westbrook hit a 3-pointer, James had back-to-back finishes at the rim, and Westbrook sunk a pair of free throws for the 58-57 halftime lead.

“My job is to make the game easy for him,” Westbrook said of James. “And he makes my job easy by running the floor. And my job is to reward him.”

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James was not the only one making history. With his 10th assist in the fourth quarter, Westbrook managed his fourth triple-double of the season. While he leads the NBA in career with triple-doubles, he now also holds the mark alone for triple-doubles (four) off the bench, leaving behind Detlef Schrempf.

Still, the Lakers could never dust the Sixers, thanks much in part to a vast inequity in 3-point shooting. The Lakers missed their first seven attempts from behind the arc before Westbrook finally drilled one in the second quarter. The Lakers finished just 6 for 20 from long range, while the Sixers were 12 for 34.

The most frustrating stat for the Lakers is a big-picture one: They’re 9-11 in what the NBA defines as “clutch” games, posting a minus-12.8 net rating in those crucial late minutes so far this season. It was all the more painful coming off of Friday’s double-overtime loss to Dallas, when the Lakers felt they were robbed by a no-call on their final shot attempt of regulation.

Past the halfway point of the season, it feels like time is running out for the Lakers to find their way in tight, winnable games. James seemed to understand that in a brusque, brief postgame interview just by his locker in which he seemed impatient to leave the scene of the latest disappointment.

“We’re playing good basketball,” he said grimly. “We’re just not winning games.”

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