The Sixers (35-27) hosted the New Orleans Pelicans (37-25) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to snap a two-game losing streak. New Orleans wanted to push its winning streak to three games. Despite a valiant effort in the second half, brutal shooting in the first half doomed the Sixers in a 103-95 defeat.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Pelicans were without the services of Dyson Daniels, who is recovering from a meniscectomy in his left knee.

EJ Liddell is on an assignment with New Orleans' G League affiliate and was out. Malcolm Hill and Dereon Seabron are on two-way G League assignments and were not available.

Willie Green started CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a meniscus procedure on his left knee. Tyrese Maxey missed the game with a concussion. Before the game, Nick Nurse told reporters that Maxey is progressing through the league's concussion protocol and "doing just fine".

Nico Batum missed the game with a sore left foot.

De'Anthony Melton remained out with stress to his lumbar spine bone. As did Robert Covington, who is recovering from a bone bruise in his left knee.

Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Buddy Hield, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Mo Bamba.


- It's too easy to glance at a box score and deduce that the losing team put forth an embarrassing effort. That largely wasn't the case in the first half. I thought Philadelphia's approach on offense was sound. They played with pace, and 20 of their 44 shots in the first half were threes. If they didn't fire quickly from the perimeter, they committed hard to the drive and didn't eat up precious time trying to be too surgical. They simply shot the ball horrendously; New Orleans couldn't miss (more on that below). But, the general approach was right and something they should carry forward as long as Embiid is out.

The pace and quick decisions are so important because their halfcourt offense has really felt the effects of the talent deficit with Embiid and Maxey out. The quicker you go, the harder it is for the defense to get set. So, moving quickly and getting up as many triples as possible is the only path to a fighting chance.

- The only Sixer worthy of a mention is Paul Reed, who was called upon to inject some energy when Philadelphia went ice-cold in the first quarter. He checked in and promptly created two new lives on one Philadelphia possession, muscling and squirming his way to two offensive rebounds on his team's misses. He then buried a long two to briefly relieve the pressure the Sixers were putting on themselves on offense. The Sixers quickly dissolved to lifelessness after a corner three gave them a 5-2 lead; Reed did what he could to take his teammates up while the game's outcome was still in doubt.


- I mentioned reducing a blowout like this game to bad effort and the talent deficit above and want to briefly touch on those in a different light. What this Sixers team has been reduced to specifically without Embiid should put an end to the way he is viewed by consumers of the NBA. Sure, he gets an abnormally generous whistle. Sure, he doesn't have the playoff equity that you want stars to have. Sure, he campaigned for his own MVP award.

And to all of that, I say so freaking what?

Look at what the Sixers were with him (and Maxey) on the court this season. Look at what they've become in the time Embiid has missed with the meniscus injury. It's largely one big human taking this group from one of the three worst in the league to the short list of title contenders.

"Haha, title contenders? Please, this group was never a contender," you might retort.

No, they were (are, if they can ever get healthy for the games that really matter) by every important advanced metric. They had amassed a strong regular-season resume, too. The signs were objectively there even if you didn't believe in them.

To think that it was largely one guy putting this team on his back and carrying them to the top of the league is difficult to comprehend. Sure, there's been a revolving door of role players on the injury report, as well. Perhaps you can argue that things would look a little different if those members of the supporting cast were consistently available during this stretch. But, Embiid also helps those guys function on both ends of the court.

So, at the end of the day, given the way the big fella is talked about, maybe there needs to be more room in the conversation than just "prove it in the playoffs". Because every time you roll your eyes at no. 21, you're doing a disservice to a talent and force unlike damn near any other. The Sixers, in their current state, are proof of just how special Embiid is.

- Now to actually diagnose a fatal blow in this game beyond just "one team made shots, the other didn't". This team has really struggled to defend against dribble penetration all season, and they were never going to have much of a prayer against the locomotive that is Williamson.

The problem was that they couldn't stop anyone from getting into the paint off the bounce, and the vast majority of New Orleans' possessions in the first half redeemed shots at the rim for Williamson or open catch-and-shoot threes out of that penetration.

In theory, Nurse probably should've gone to zone defense quicker against a team like the Pelicans. Not only is forcing them to make a lot of threes a heck of a lot better than letting that group attack the basket, but it also would've protected you from the foul trouble that the Sixers appeared to be in in the first half. But, once they got going from three off of pure dribble penetration, I don't know that zone would've distinguished the heater the Pelicans were on.

- Harris is overmatched by Williamson's size and athleticism and McCollum's quickness off the dribble, but he had absolutely nothing for them in one-on-one attacks. Those two left him in the dust over and over again, and Harris didn't really pick it up on offense until the game was out of reach. More of the same.

The Sixers (35-28) will visit the New York Knicks (36-26) on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on ESPN.

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