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Covered the Lakers and NBA for m from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.
LOS ANGELES -- For the second straight game, theLos Angeles Lakerscouldnt close out a winnable game in the clutch. And for the second straight game, the Lakers were left lamenting a foul they believed went uncalled that affected the outcome.
After Sundays113-112 losstoPhiladelphia,Russell Westbrookclaimed Sixers centerJoel Embiidgrabbed his arm on L.A.s final offensive possession when the Lakers guard was attempting a potential game-winning layup with 3 seconds remaining.
I was trying to get my hand up, Westbrook explained afterward. I couldnt get my hand up to shoot because [Embiid] was grabbing it. But its all good.
Westbrook showed a small group of reporters a screenshot on his cell phone that appeared to show Embiids left hand clutching Westbrooks right wrist as the 2017 league MVP started his attack dribble toward the basket.
The official box score awarded Sixers forwardGeorges Niangwith a block on Westbrooks shot attempt with 3.0 seconds remaining and Embiid a defensive rebound with 1.0 seconds left as he corralled the loose ball before the buzzer to close things out.
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Embiid disagreed with Westbrooks take on the sequence.
I dont think I fouled him, Embiid said. Physical play on both sides. You could have called a foul on the other end, too, on the bump. So, it goes both ways.
Then, in typical Embiid fashion, the Philadelphia big man gave his version of events with a bit of a wink-wink.
They were pushing the ball in transition and he was in front of me and I just waved everybody else off. I believe Im a great defender, so I believe I can get a stop on anybody, Embiid said. [Westbrook] was actually unlucky because he lost the ball and then from there, he kind of had nothing else going.
The loss, which was the Lakers third straight and came on theheels of a defeatagainst theDallas Mavericksin double-overtime Thursday, dropped L.A. to 19-24, 13th in the 15-team Western Conference.
Its just frustrating,LeBron Jamessaid. Getting in those positions and not being able to come out with the victory. ... Were playing good basketball. Were just not winning games.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham defended both his decision to not call timeout with 13.1 seconds remaining when Westbrook rebounded an Embiid miss on the defensive end and the fact that Westbrook was the one to orchestrate the final possession instead of James.
Down one, youve 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, Ham said. Ill take that scenario every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
We just got to finish the play. Thats it. Make a harder, stronger move to the rim. Thats it. Its as simple as that. And it just didnt work out.
Before the game, withAnthony Davis(right foot stress reaction),Patrick Beverley(non-COVID-19 illness),Austin Reaves(left hamstring strain) andLonnie Walker IV(left knee tendinitis) all out, Ham said that the only two automatic choices for his closing lineup would be James and Westbrook.
Despite the finish mirroring other late-game situations that resulted in losses for the Lakers this season against thePortland Trail BlazersandLA Clipperswhen the opposing teams center guarded Westbrook in crunch time and Westbrook failed to capitalize, Ham doubled down on his support of his point guard.
Just being down one point and the ball is in Russell Westbrooks hand, Im comfortable with that. I dont know how much I can reiterate that. If it was Bron, itd be the same thing, Ham said. Its disappointing that we lost. And its disappointing that we couldnt close the game out. But make no mistake about it, down one with the ball in Russ hands with Embiid standing in front of him, I have confidence in my player. And thats not going to change. We just got to make a better play.
The end spoiled an otherwise splendid night for Westbrook individually and the Lakers as a team. Westbrook had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, becoming the all-time leader in triple-doubles for a substitute by logging the fourth of his career.
James scored 35 points on 15-for-23 shooting, with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and moved his career scoring total past 38,000 points -- becoming the youngest player ever to reach the mark and just the second player ever to do it afterKareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBAs all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points.
The best thing about this league is you get an opportunity to redeem yourself very fast, said James, who was terse during his postgame remarks, still reeling from the loss. You still get an opportunity to be better the next day.
We got another one tomorrow and we got to be ready to play against a young, fast, energeticHouston Rocketsteam.