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NBA highlights on Jan. 15: Did Westbrook ruin James’ career night?

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers sits on the floor after missing the game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers sits on the floor after missing the game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Russell Westbrook (#0) of the Los Angeles Lakers sits on the floor after missing the game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 113-112 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, extending the purple and gold’s losing streak to three games.

LeBron James, 38, made a catch & shoot jumper at 5:42 in the first quarter to score the 38,001 point of his NBA career, becoming only the second person in league history to surpass 38,000 points after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Moreover, James (38,024) is only 364 points away from beating Jabbar’s (38,387) NBA all-time scoring record with 39 games to go in the 2022-23 campaign.

James was in a great form on Sunday night as he went 15-for-23 from the floor. Though he missed four of his five triples attempts, the veteran shot 5-for-8 in mid-range jumpers. Such accurate shooting in addition to his dominance under the rim gave James and the Lakers a good chance to celebrate the latest milestone of his career with a win at home.

LeBron James (#6) of the Los Angeles Lakers drives toward the rim in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

LeBron James (#6) of the Los Angeles Lakers drives toward the rim in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

LeBron James (#6) of the Los Angeles Lakers drives toward the rim in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Russell Westbrook’s missed final shot was why victory didn’t happen for the purple and gold. The team trailed by one point (113-112) when Joel Embiid missed his fadeaway jump shop. Westbrook had the rebound and then drove fast to the front court before facing Embiid at the left wing. He tried to exploit that mismatch and drove toward the rim, but Westbrook’s shot was blocked by George Niang.

Westbrook said he was fouled by Embiid before taking that shot. Some photos showed that while Westbrook was on his way to the hoop, his right arm was grabbed by Embiid – Westbrook was dribbling with his left hand at that time – and, as a result, he “couldn’t get his hand up to shoot.”

Whether Embiid fouled Westbrook or not in that final moment of Sunday’s game, it won’t change the result of Sunday’s competition. There were 12 seconds left when Westbrook dribbled to the left wing and James was on the right wing, though he didn’t seem to ask for the ball. Westbrook has a speed advantage over Embiid, who is also the best help defender of the 76ers but already far away from the basket.

Joel Embiid (#21) of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Joel Embiid (#21) of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Joel Embiid (#21) of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

If Westbrook had passed to James, who is bigger, more powerful and shoots better than Westbrook both under the rim and in the middle range, the possibility of Embiid standing ready in the paint instead of chasing someone there should be considered as well. The former obviously benefits the defensive side more than the latter.

It’s hard to say if the Lakers’ head coach Davin Ham was wrong not to call a timeout, which he had two left back then. When Westbrook drove that play, the 76ers had Embiid, James, Harden, Niang, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey on the floor. Embiid was the only reliable defender of the five and he was drawn out to the 3-point line by Westbrook. If Ham had called a timeout, his 76ers counterpart had no reason not to send more defenders including P.J. Tucker and Matisse Thybulle to the court, which might make it harder for the Lakers to attack.

James Harden (#1) of the Philadelphia 76ers passes in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

James Harden (#1) of the Philadelphia 76ers passes in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

James Harden (#1) of the Philadelphia 76ers passes in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Fairly speaking, Westbrook performed very well before the last play. He had a triple-double of 20 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists while shooting 7-for-13 in field goals (FGs) and 2-for-5 from downtown. The reason why Niang was waiting under the hoop for Westbrook during that play was that the rest of the purple and gold went 4-for-14 at the 3-point line. Their poor spacing encouraged the 76ers to close in, like they did for nearly all 48 minutes on Sunday night.

The 76ers are not a team living behind the arc, but they (12-for-34) did much better than the Lakers (6-for-20) there. Harden scored an efficient double-double of 24 points and 13 assists. So did Embiid who went 12-for-21 from the field to get 35 points and 11 rebounds.

Other games on Sunday (away teams come first):

Nikola Jokic (#9) of the Chicago Bulls shoots in the game against the Golden State Warriors at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#9) of the Chicago Bulls shoots in the game against the Golden State Warriors at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#9) of the Chicago Bulls shoots in the game against the Golden State Warriors at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Golden State Warriors 118-132 Chicago Bulls

Nikola Vucevic had his best-performing night for the Bulls this season by dropping 43 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, on Sunday. Though he only earned two free throws, the Montenegrin giant drained five 3-pointers and went 11-for-15 in the paint.

The Warriors wasted the 21 triples they made at an FG rate of 41.2 percent. Eight of those shots came from Klay Thompson. Stephen Curry made all five of his attempts within the 3-point line, but missed seven of his 10 triples while contributing eight turnovers, a new season high.

Josh Giddey (#3) of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots in the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Josh Giddey (#3) of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots in the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Josh Giddey (#3) of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots in the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Oklahoma City Thunder 112-102 Brooklyn Nets

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Luguentz Dort combined to score 78 points, 21 rebounds and 12 assists for the Thunder to secure their third straight win at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City. The three did well in different things: Giddey was one rebound and one assist away from a 28-point triple-double; Alexander shot 11-for-14 at the free throw line; Dort made five of his seven attempts from downtown.

Without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving again failed to lead the Nets to victory after another poor-shooting game in which he missed 13 of 20 FGs to get only 15 points. The team didn’t only struggle on the offensive end – their defense was disappointing as well after allowing 37 points by the opponents in the fourth quarter.

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Orlando Magic 116-119 Denver Nuggets

The score was tied at 116 when the Nuggets had their final play at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado on Sunday. There were 14.9 seconds left before Jamal Murray dribbled to the front court and faced Markelle Fultz. Nikola Jokic set a screen for Murray, but Wendell Carter Jr. stayed next to Fultz to shut Murray out and left Jokic to Franz Wagner.

Murray gave the ball to Jokic who faced Wagner at the free throw line. Jokic already got a triple-double of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists before that. He shot 7-for-7 within the 3-point line, but missed all three triples. Michael Porter Jr. was open at the right corner and he went 4-for-8 from downtown, but Paolo Banchero was already looking at him while standing next to Aaron Gordon under the hoop.

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in the game against the Orlando Magic at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, January 15, 2023. /CFP

Jokic took one step back out of the 3-point line, shot before Wagner could close out to deflect, the ball fell into the net, adding three points for the Nuggets to lead 119-116 and leaving only 0.2 seconds for the Magic. After that, Banchero’s desperate shot didn’t even touch the Nuggets’ net.

The Nuggets extended their winning streak to six games, became the first team in the Western Conference to reach 30 wins and gave voters more reasons to consider if Jokic is worth the third NBA Most Valuable Player Award in a row.

New York Knicks 117-104 Detroit Pistons

Houston Rockets 100-121 Los Angeles Clippers

Sacramento Kings 132-119 San Antonio Spurs

Dallas Mavericks 123-140 Portland Trail Blazers


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