LOS ANGELES - The 76ers aren't apologetic about wanting to win. They realize at this point that victories are considered losses for a team that supposedly is tanking to secure a top lottery pick.

Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center - when Nerlens Noel had a scare - was a perfect example. A 101-87 setback kept them close to the New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the battle for the most Ping-Pong balls.

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The Sixers (17-53) had a two-game winning streak snapped, but this setback was their 15th straight on the road.

However, a lot of the attention went to Noel.

The standout rookie center left the game with 5 minutes, 25 seconds left in the third quarter with an eye injury. Noel inadvertently took a shot from Lakers center Tarik Black underneath the basket. After jumping to make a defensive play, the 6-foot-11, 223-pounder was hit while coming down.

He fell to the court and was helped up by teammate Ish Smith during a stoppage in play. Noel then was checked out by trainer Kevin Johnson before placing an ice pack on his eye on the bench. He returned to the game at the start of the fourth quarter.

Noel finished with nine points and seven rebounds. He scored three points and grabbed two rebounds after the incident.

"His hand flew in my eye," said Noel, who still appeared out of it following the game. "I was dizzy for a little bit, but I feel better now."

The Sixers remain three losses behind the last-place Knicks (14-56) with 12 games left. The Timberwolves (15-54) have the league's second-worst record. The Sixers have the third-worst mark right ahead of the Lakers (18-50).

But the Sixers' players would have been happy with a victory.

"We understand exactly the tom-toms in the marketplace," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the team's fans wanting them to lose. "I'm proud of the way we play every night.

"What we may lack in resumés and birth certificates and all that, we make up for with big spirit and tremendous team camaraderie."

Unfortunately for them, they couldn't stop Jeremy Lin. The Lakers backup point guard scored 21 of his season-high 29 points in the second half. The former Harvard standout shot 10-for-16 from the field while making 7 of 8 foul shots. Lin also five assists and five rebounds.

"You have to give 100 percent credit to Jeremy," Smith said. "He came off the bench and gave them a spark and got it going. He got in transition. He hit tough shots."

Most of his damage came in the decisive fourth quarter, scoring 12 points.

The Lakers trailed 75-74 after three quarters. But following Lin's lead, they went on to outscore the Sixers, 27-12, in the fourth.

"We tried to double team with seven or six and a half minutes left and [Jeremy Lin] still found ways to score," Brown said. "We tried multiple people on him. We tried to get length on him. We tried to get quickness on him, and we tried to blitz him. We searched to try to find ways to defend him, and we struggled all night."

But the Sixers didn't help themselves, shooting 4 of 22 in the fourth quarter.

Power forward Jordan Hill added 12 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes.

Sixers reserve power forward Thomas Robinson finished with a team-high 14 points in on 7-for-8 shooting. He also had eight rebounds in 15 minutes after missing Friday's victory over the Knicks with bruised ribs.

Luc Mbah a Moute, the Sixers' starting power forward, added 13 points. Reserve swingman Robert Covington (11 points) was the team's other double-digit scorer.

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Notes

Brown had a light moment with Lakers' injured point guard Steve Nash, who announced his retirement Saturday. Nash was a college teammate of Sixers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce at Santa Clara.

"It's funny because I walked down stairs when we got into the hotel and he played with Lloyd Pierce," Brown said of seeing Nash on Saturday. "I saw him and went up to him and said, 'You know, are you serious? You retired? What have you done?' We had a good laugh."

Nash is a two-time league MVP.

@PompeyOnSixers