Riding a seven-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Clippers will face an important, late-season test when they square off against the host Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
In an earlier matchup between the teams, when Sixers head coach Doc Rivers put his new team up against his former one, the Clippers won 122-112 at Los Angeles on March 27.
The latest victory for the Clippers was gritty — a 100-98 come-from-behind triumph on the road over the Detroit Pistons when Reggie Jackson made the game-winning jumper with 2.3 seconds left over his former team.
Even more impressive, Los Angeles played without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris. The Clippers finished with only 10 assists and struggled to create shots with some of their front line unavailable.
“With those key pieces out, sometimes you just have to find ways to win games, however you can do it,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “I’m proud of our guys for the way they played tonight, just by the way they kept competing. They didn’t make a lot of shots. The offense wasn’t great, wasn’t pretty. But we just kept fighting, kept clawing and kept grinding. And that’s why I’m proud of our team.”
Leonard missed the game with a sore right foot, while Ibaka continues to deal with a lingering lower-back issue. Beverley is out for the next month with a broken left hand, and the Clippers chose to give George and Morris a day of rest.
“It’s just being a resilient group,” Jackson said when asked about his team’s success playing short-handed. “Honestly, this team has had its ups and downs with injuries that we’ve sustained throughout the year, with guys being in and out of the lineup.
“It’s been real topsy-turvy. It’s been tough for us at times, but I think it’s shaping us into who we are, finding ways to continue to lean on each other as brothers.”
The 76ers’ Joel Embiid did not play in the first game between the teams due to a knee injury he suffered on March 12 against the Washington Wizards.
Since returning to the starting lineup two weeks ago, Embiid has returned to his MVP-style level of play.
Over the past five games, Embiid is averaging 30.2 points and 9.0 rebounds. The big man was at his best in a 123-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, finishing with 39 points and 13 rebounds.
Philadelphia seized control of the top of the Eastern Conference with the victory and is riding a three-game winning streak.
“The last time a center won (MVP), Shaq was extremely dominant,” Embiid said of Shaquille O’Neal’s 2000 honor. “And I feel like that’s what I’ve been all season. Just dominant, just impossible to guard.
“I’m either getting to the free-throw line or scoring — going through anything. So it would be great (to win the MVP). Obviously, that’s something I want very much. But, then again, I’m trying to win a championship. So we’ve just got to take one game at a time and get every single win that we can.”
–Field Level Media