Too little too late for Sixers in loss to Pelicans: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (12-5) visited the New Orleans Pelicans (9-9) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning streak to three games. New Orleans wanted to snap a two-game losing skid. With Joel Embiid ruled out shortly before game time, the Sixers lacked focus on offense and effort on defense until it was too little too late in a 124-114 defeat.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Embiid has an illness and was a late scratch.
Kelly Oubre Jr. was out as he continues to recover from a fractured rib. There is a chance he could make his return on Friday against the Celtics.
Danuel House Jr. has a left quad contusion and was out. Jaden Springer missed the game due to an illness.
Terquavion Smith, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris Sr.
The Pelicans were without Trey Murphy III, who is recovering from a partial meniscectomy in his left knee.
Matt Ryan has a right calf strain and was out.
Dereon Seabron is on a two-way assignment with New Orleans' G League affiliate and was not available.
Willie Green started CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Jonas Valanciunas.
- Some good minutes from KJ Martin in this game. He was aggressive on defense, swinging at the ball in an effort to spike shots away both at the rim and on the perimeter. He hustled to loose balls, chasing defensive rebounds to try to help Philadelphia put together some transition offense. He even snuck to the rim on offense, turning garbage into gold on his teammates' misses.
- I didn't realize the Patrick Beverley floater is a viable weapon, but I think it might be a viable weapon? If he's more comfortable with that than taking a catch-and-shoot three, then, by all means, use the space to your advantage.
- It needs to be mentioned that the Sixers did put forth a nice effort to make the Pelicans pay attention in the game's final minutes. But, you don't get too much credit for taking advantage of an opponent falling asleep when you were otherwise getting blown out.
- Embiid is very rarely a late scratch for a game. If he's out, he usually pops up on the injury report at least a few hours in advance. There have surely been times in which he's played through illness or injury when it could've easily gone the other way. But, come on. A late scratch with an illness? There weren't symptoms that left him 'Questionable' hours in advance? Really?
- This was an opportunity to lean into a zone defense for a big chunk of time, even if Nurse found himself adjusting to different types of zones before the Pelicans grew too comfortable with the current look. New Orleans was without its best three-point shooter. They are not a willing three-point team, either. What they do have is a ton of size and bulk, which does not bode well for Philadelphia on a night without Embiid.
But, most importantly, the Pelicans are at their best on offense when Williamson is turning the corner to his left and Ingram is getting downhill on a ball screen. And, even if the offense gets deeper than that, Valanciunas is a lengthy big who is either going to lurk around the dunker spot or take catch-and-shoot threes. So, in a world where the biggest threat to your defense is dribble penetration, this was a perfect matchup to take it back to college and high school and clog up the spacing in the paint. If they kill you with threes, so be it. But, you're not going to beat the Sixers to death with easy drives to the rim.
Nurse did not go that route in the first half, and the Sixers had no chance of stopping attacks in the paint. They were too small to stop Williamson, too slow to stop Ingram. And when the ball got inside, forget it. If it wasn't an easy two points, it was a foul. Nothing the Sixers tried on defense thwarted the problems they faced - size to protect the rim and dribble penetration.
I don't know that they had much of a prayer anyway. But, the schemes they used were questionable at best against the Pelicans with Embiid unavailable.
- Another rather uninspiring first half for Maxey without Embiid. I thought his body language was atypical of his usual demeanor, and his effort on defense was quite bad. Here's the thing - you're the leader when Embiid is not there. You set the tone for your teammates. If you look disinterested and defeated, your teammates will follow that.
- In a game that defense wasn't going to seal all of the cracks, the Sixers' offensive processes throughout the first half were quite uninspiring. There was no real strategy, no elaborate play-calls to manufacture good looks. Philadelphia lived long enough to take quick threes or attack the first close-out. Anything else was a turnover. You're going to have quite a bit of ground to cover when you compound bad possessions with bleeding points on the other end of the court.
- Harris has never been known for his passing, but his passes in this game were quite bad. He threw the ball away because he dribbled himself into no man's land, he telegraphed basic reads and got picked off in the passing lanes. Not a sharp night for a player with his experience.
- The Sixers largely dictated their own fate in this game. But, the officiating was absolutely abhorrent. Martin was called for an offensive interference on a put-back that wasn't close to being illegal. There were a handful of should-be calls to send Maxey to the free throw line or give the Sixers play resets with fouls on the floor. Moving screens that weren't actually moving. Fouls on the floor that should've been continuations. But, don't worry, they made up all those missed calls on the Pelicans' end of the floor.
By the end of the night, all Nurse could do was smile and shrug at his players when they were called for fouls because it was so one-sided and inconsistent. F- day at work for the stripes.
- Whatever chance Mo Bamba had of earning the coaching staff's trust in the near future was swiftly destroyed with his stint in the first quarter. The Sixers were already on the ropes when he checked in, but I've never seen a big of his age and experience get tossed around and offer as little resistance at the rim as Bamba did. If it wasn't a straight line drive to the basket, it was one pass and a swift move to shake the rim-protector for an easy score.
To be fair, it's not a great matchup for a player who has not played actual rotation minutes all season to suddenly get a chance. But, you have to be ready. That's the business.
- Batum left the game with a right index finger injury and did not return. So, with Boston on the immediate horizons, that's something to track.
The Sixers (12-6) will visit the Boston Celtics (14-4) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on ESPN.