76ers set to turn corner versus Clippers
LOS ANGELES — New beginnings in a new year is not just an annual cliche.
The Sixers finished the opening three months as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but they are just 6-6 since Dec. 5, falling twice at home in that stretch. They will enter Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles after a humbling 129-95 defeat against the surging Portland Trail Blazers.
The Clippers worked their way into the top spot in the Western Conference on two separate occasions before going just 6-9 in December, including a four-game losing streak when scoring backup guard Lou Williams was dealing with a hamstring issue.
Joel Embiid did not play for the Sixers on Sunday because of left knee soreness, as Philadelphia fell to 1-2 on its season-long five-game road trip. After facing the Clippers, Philadelphia will end its journey at Phoenix on Wednesday.
Embiid’s knee injury is not believed to be serious. He might even play Tuesday against the Clippers.
“It’s not anything that we’re concerned about,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said before Sunday’s game. “We’re just reacting to his thoughts and the medical staff’s thoughts that (Sunday) might be a good place to sit. … It’s something that is recent and (we’re) just being precautionary with it.”
Williams’ four game absence for the Clippers, and the ensuing losing streak, seemed to prove that stopping the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is the key to stopping Los Angeles.
In the six games since he has returned, Williams has scored at least 24 points in four of them, including a season-high 36 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. The Clippers are 4-2 in those six games.
But just like the Sixers, the Clippers will enter Tuesday’s game coming off a defeat. The Clippers were upended at home on Saturday 122-11 by the San Antonio Spurs, in a game when Williams was held to 16 points.
The Clippers lamented a lack of energy Sunday and acknowledge that the Spurs were the more physical team. LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs’ 6-foot-11 power forward, torched the Clippers’ big men for 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it happens; sometimes we cannot find our rhythm on offense and our defense wasn’t great,” said the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, who has scored at least 21 points in six of the last eight games.
“We just have to be better. Against a very good team like the Spurs, who have been playing well the last month, you have to play for 48 minutes.”
Both the Clippers and the Sixers know what it is like to be playing well. Despite some uneven play of late, the Sixers will enter Tuesday with a 23-14 record. The Clippers, with their revamped roster void of superstars, will enter 21-15.
Williams could have been speaking for both the Sixers and the Clippers when he spoke of a positive outlook, even without a strong recent run.
“We are in a good spot,” Williams said. “The West is a heavy conference, and there are teams that are over .500 that are not in the playoff picture. We are 5-6 games over .500 and that is pretty good basketball right there in the mix of everything. We feel pretty good about it.”