LOS ANGELES – The 76ers' "Trust the Process" tour ends Wednesday night at the Staples Center with one of their most anticipated games of the season.
Folks started looking forward to the head-to-head battle between point guards Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball the moment the Los Angeles Lakers selected Ball with the second pick of June's NBA draft. The interest level rose even higher that night when a tweet from Joel Embiid asked Simmons to "Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him."
What followed was a heated back and forth between Embiid and Ball's outspoken father, LaVar, which led to the Sixers center being fined by the NBA for directing an expletive toward LaVar on social media.
Embiid has since said he was just having fun with the initial tweet and loves what Lonzo is doing with the Lakers.
"I'm a big fan," Embiid said following Tuesday's practice at UCLA.
But basketball enthusiasts will still want to find out how Ball compares to Simmons, the favorite for rookie of the year.
Simmons has made things look easy while leading the Sixers to a 7-6 record heading into the fifth and final game of their West Coast trip.
As the Los Angeles Clippers learned in Monday's 109-105 loss to the Sixers, the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder is hard to stop at the rim. He finished with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Simmons' first seven field goals came on dunks. His final two baskets were finger rolls.
"As soon as I attack the rim, I try to beast up," he said. "I call it beast up, where you just try to get to the rim and push everybody out of the way."
Simmons' ability to "beast up" enables him to dominate offensively despite lacking a consistent outside shot. His explosiveness allows him to get separation attacking the rim on defenders who go under in pick-and-rolls.
His aggressiveness has enabled him to lead rookies in scoring (17.8 points per game), rebounds (9.2), and assists (7.5).
Meanwhile, Ball has mostly struggled.
He watched the fourth quarter of Monday's 100-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns from the bench. Ball had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting to go with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and four turnovers when he left the game for good in the third quarter.
This came two nights after the 20-year-old finished with 19 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds to become the NBA's youngest player to record a triple-double in a 98-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Those types of games have been far from the norm.
Ball is shooting 31.3 percent from the field and averaging 9.5 points. He is second among rookies in assists at 7.2 per game.
Despite his overall struggles, the Sixers are complimentary of the 6-foot-6, 190-pounder from UCLA.
"He can play," Simmons said. "He sees the game well. He reads it well. I mean, he's a good player."
It will be interesting to see how many will be rooting for the Sixers in the Staples Center Wednesday night.
The crowd was about 60-40 in favor of the Clippers there Monday night. In fact, Sixers fans have been vocal and visible in every stop during this road trip that also had stops in Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and Oakland.
Students at St. Ignatius Preparatory School in San Francisco chanted "Trust the Process" outside the gymnasium where the Sixers practiced Friday. Then a Santa Monica High School employee greeted coach Brett Brown with a "Trust The Process" after Brown stepped off the bus for Monday's shootaround there.
Hearing "Trust the Process" in places like New York and Washington has come to be expected. However, hearing it in California says a lot about the team's popularity.
"It doesn't surprise me," Embiid said. "Sixers Nation is really big. I have a lot of fans all over the place. So everywhere we go, I expect to see a lot of them. … The support that we are getting, it just shows you we are getting better and we are on the right path."
Monday's recap: Robert Covington showed why he's expected to get the remaining $15 million in the Sixers' salary-cap space shortly after the team is allowed to renegotiate his contract on Wednesday. The small forward finished with a career-high 31 points against the Clippers. He scored seven of his team's final nine points in a game that wasn't decided until the final second. He scored the game's final four points at the foul line.
Embiid finished with game highs of 32 points and 16 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Simmons added 22 points and 12 rebounds. It was the rookie point guard's eighth double-double.
Former Sixer Lou Williams paced the Clippers with 31 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin added 29 points.