With LeBron James in street clothes, the Los Angeles Lakers put up a strong fight but failed to garner stops late in the game as they fell short to the Philadelphia Sixers (121-126) at home.
Both Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook led the way with 24 points each. Still, the most inspiring and admirable factor for the Lakers was the competitive spirit and tenacity against a healthy Sixers squad on Wednesday.
According to Frank Vogel, this is the mentality the Lakers can carry on as they look to finish the season strongly.
"We fell short tonight, but I was pleased with the effort," Vogel said. "I was proud of how we competed, and we continue to evolve."
Role players showed up
Los Angeles kept the game competitive from the get-go because of their young studs in Malik Monk and Stanley Johnson. Johnson started the game on fire, knocking down all three of his long-range attempts. He had 13 points while Monk contributed 23 points in the contest.
"There's no win for us tonight but the effort is something we can continue," Johnson said. The 25-year-old forward also added that he's slowly finding his groove as he continues to develop in his role.
Speaking of fitting in their roles, Westbrook also said that the team is "sliding into their roles a little bit better," which has contributed to their improved play lately. But Despite their recent awakening, the Lakers still severely lack continuity due to multiple injuries and players being in and out of the lineup.
Wednesday's starting-five of Stanley Johnson-Wenyen Gabriel- Dwight Howard-Austin Reaves and Westbrook played for the first time together this season. To put that in another perspective, the Sixers' new starting five with James Harden in the mix has played 11 times which is more than any other Lakers starting five this season.
Sadly, moral victories don't count
The Lakers' admirable effort and competitive spirit on Wednesday are worth praising, but this loss still stains on the record (31-42).
They're still in danger of falling out of the play-in tournament as the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs are slowly creeping in and looking to overtake them. This means that the next two games against the Pelicans will be vital for the Lakers if they want to clinch a spot in the play-in.
"It's going to be a playoff-type of atmosphere for us. It's definitely a must-win, I believe for our group," Westbrook said.
If the Lakers do end up clinching the ninth or tenth seed (which is the likeliest outcome), they will have to win two games in a row to make the playoffs. The last time the Purple and Gold won two straight games was on January 5 and 8, when they went on a four-game winning streak.
Vogel still believes that the Lakers can prosper despite their inability to win games, especially if the team is healthy moving forward.
"We're hoping those games are going to be played with Anthony Davis," Vogel said.