The Sixers again couldn’t compensate for the reigning MVP’s absence Wednesday night.
With Embiid scratched late because of an illness, the Sixers dropped to 0-2 this season without him and 12-6 overall, losing a 124-114 game to the Pelicans at Smoothie King Center. New Orleans improved to 10-9.
Pelicans star Zion Williamson had 33 points on 11-for-12 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers with 33 points.
The Sixers will play the Celtics on Friday night in Boston. Here are observations on their loss to the Pelicans:
So much for small ball
When Embiid sat a week ago with left hip soreness and Marcus Morris Sr. started in Minnesota, fouling was a major early issue for the Sixers.
While that wasn’t a problem Wednesday night against New Orleans, almost everything else was.
Morris got a couple of decent looks against 7-foot Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas but missed his first two jumpers. The Sixers opened 2 for 12 from the floor and New Orleans started 11 for 13.
Valanciunas was central to much of the Pelicans’ first-quarter fun, scoring eight quick points. New Orleans easily exploited the Sixers’ decision to play small, driving hard and finishing without any fear of a rim protector.
Though the Sixers have generally played well with Embiid off the court this year, he’s an immensely impactful two-way presence. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse has far trickier decisions on Embiid-less nights, and the option of starting Morris is currently 0 for 2. The Sixers fell behind by 18 points in Wednesday’s first quarter.
Rotation time for Martin and Bamba
Bamba couldn’t convert a put-back layup on his first possession. He deterred Williamson at the rim when the Sixers moved to zone defense, but the All-Star forward made a fantastic wraparound pass to CJ McCollum for a corner three-pointer. Williamson had no trouble sliding around Bamba and scoring inside on the Pelicans’ next play.
Valanciunas immediately earned deep paint position against Bamba when the Sixers switched to man-to-man defense and drew a whistle on him. After a little over four minutes on the floor, Bamba sat with two points, two rebounds and two fouls. Paul Reed then subbed in. Difficult situation for Bamba, and New Orleans’ veteran big man was ruthless in attacking an opponent who’d mostly been watching from the bench and playing in garbage time.
Martin conceded an and-one layup to Williamson right away. He also picked up two fouls in his first four minutes.
The 22-year-old did display his high-level athleticism a few times. He appeared to have a high-flying tip-in layup, but the officials called Martin for basket interference. Nurse and the Sixers’ bench hotly protested the call, to no avail. The Sixers were unhappy with the officiating often and Nurse eventually got a technical foul early in the fourth quarter.
Although the Sixers were stretched thin Wednesday, the bottom line is the Pelicans’ top players performed significantly better. Williamson, Valanciunas and Brandon Ingram totaled 67 points on 23-for-28 shooting, 18 rebounds and 15 assists.
Sixers’ last-ditch push in vain
The Sixers stuck with the same starting lineup to begin the second half. On the first play of the third quarter, De’Anthony Melton caught a Nicolas Batum pass with his foot out of bounds.
By the middle of the third, the Sixers had reached a new season high in turnovers; they ended with 21. Maxey recorded four giveaways and just three assists.
Some of the Sixers’ turnovers were uncharacteristically casual and sloppy. Melton had a bad one in the second quarter on a backcourt inbounds pass. Tobias Harris tossed a casual pass to Morris in the third period that Williamson picked off, leading to a Morris take foul. Those types of play regularly stunted potential Sixers runs.
Batum went to the Sixers’ locker room just 75 seconds into the third. The team ruled him out with a right index finger injury later in the quarter, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
Batum hurt his right index finger on Nov. 8 during the Sixers’ win over the Celtics, but he returned to the game on that night. He’s been a strong fit since joining the Sixers in the James Harden trade, showcasing his well-honed sense for how to be a valuable, versatile role player alongside stars like Embiid.
Maxey sat and the Sixers gave Bamba and Martin an extended run early in the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, Maxey then re-entered with 7:03 remaining. The NBA’s leader in minutes per game (38.4 average before Wednesday) went a game-high 38 against New Orleans.
The Sixers played their best basketball over the final minutes, making a 17-2 run and cutting a 29-point deficit as low as eight. Maxey scored a few buckets against a too-comfortable Pelicans team and the Sixers forced New Orleans to sweat a bit.
Of course, 29-point leads are usually safe in the NBA and the Pelicans saw a deserved win through to the final buzzer.
Source: Yahoo Sports