Lakers excited for challenge of facing draft lottery neighbor 76ers


EL SEGUNDO — When the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers square off Wednesday night at Staples Center, the game will feature two teams that haven’t seen the playoffs in a while and have spent recent years at or near the bottom of their respective Western and Eastern conference standings.

The 76ers (7-6) last made the postseason in the strike-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Lakers in 2012-13. Both franchises appear to be on the rise, and have acquired some promising young talent, so Lakers coach Luke Walton and his players are looking forward to the matchup.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be exciting,” said Walton, whose team is 6-8. “There’s a lot of good teams out there, so it’s always exciting to get out there and play. But with young, high draft picks and teams going at each other, I think that’s always a little extra for them.”

Philadelphia is built around second-year center Joel Embiid and 6-foot-10 rookie point guard Ben Simmons. Embiid missed the 2014-15 and ’15-’16 seasons because of a foot injury, then played in only 31 games last season because of a knee injury. Now healthy, he’s averaging 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 blocked shots this season.

Embiid went for 32 points and 16 rebounds in a 109-105 victory over the host Clippers on Monday.

“I saw some highlights on Sports Center when I got home,” Walton said of Embiid. “He’s a pretty good basketball player. But the way Simmons is playing right now, J.J. (Redick) shooting the ball, they’re doing some pretty good things over there. … So it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Redick is the 76ers’ fourth-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, forward Robert Covington is at 16.8 and Simmons, who missed the 2016-17 season recovering from foot surgery, is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists.

Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ rookie forward, is impressed with Simmons.

“Pretty good young player, having a good year, does a lot for their team, so we’re going to have our hands full,” he said following practice Tuesday.

Kuzma also likes the notion that this game will pit a pair of teams making some headway.

“Yeah, they have a really young core and we have a young core, too,” said Kuzma, whose 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game rank third and second on the team, respectively. “Hopefully, each of those cores kind of grow and develop and fight for championships. We’ve got that opportunity and chance, too.”

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