Instant Observations: With Embiid Out of Lineup, 76ers Fall to Pelicans 124-114

Instant Observations: With Embiid Out of Lineup, 76ers Fall to Pelicans 124-114 Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers (12-6) fell to the New Orleans Pelicans (10-9) 124-114 on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Joel Embiid was a late scratch for this contest due to an illness. The Sixers were also without Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib), Danuel House Jr. (left quad contusion) and Jaden Springer (illness). Nic Batum left the game early with a right index finger injury.

Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers with 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting from the field. De’Anthony Melton finished the game with 17 points, three rebounds, five assists and four steals.

Zion Williamson led the Pelicans with 33 points on perfect 11-of-11 shooting to go with eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. CJ McCollum finished with 20 points, five assists and two steals.

The Pelicans were missing Trey Murphy III (left knee partial meniscectomy), Larry Nance Jr. (non-Covid illness) and Matt Ryan (right calf strain).

The Sixers’ next matchup is on the road against the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Here are some instant observations from the loss:

– One of the lone bright spots from an otherwise brutal game to watch was Maxey’s aggressiveness as a scorer. With Embiid out of the lineup, he took over the reigns as the team’s top scorer. The Pelicans made sure to make it tough for him to find any space, especially on drives to the basket. Despite not having many clean driving lanes, Maxey was able to showcase his crafty finishing ability.

Outside of a few nice finishes around the basket, Maxey was not able to produce much offensively. The Pelicans did their best to not let him go wild, and their efforts proved mostly successful. Perhaps the area Maxey struggled in the most was setting up his teammates for open looks. He has shown a ton of progress as a playmaker so far this season, but this was not his finest night in that aspect. He committed some sloppy turnovers and failed to adequately run the offense. However, Maxey had a solid night overall and was one of the Sixers’ only players who found a modicum of success against the Pelicans.

– For much of the night, Melton was not producing much for the Sixers. However, he turned the corner in the fourth quarter and helped the Sixers put a scare in New Orleans. The Sixers cut what was at one point a 29-point Pelicans lead down to eight points with a few minutes remaining due in large part to the play of Melton, Maxey’s scoring barrage and some big Robert Covington 3-pointers. Despite his shot not falling early, Melton kept at it and the shots eventually started going down. He also was active defensively, proving to be a pest on that end of the floor. Covington followed in Melton’s footsteps, draining all four of his attempts from long distance in the fourth quarter. Covington finished the game with 12 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

– With Embiid a late scratch from the lineup, head coach Nick Nurse elected to start Marcus Morris Sr. in his place. Going with a five-out lineup was a risky decision against a Pelicans lineup containing both Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas. It quickly became clear that lineup was not going to fare well. The Pelicans feasted in the paint early on, scoring 20 points in the paint in the first quarter alone. The Sixers also thoroughly lost the rebounding battle in the opening quarter, 13-5.

The idea behind starting Morris presumably is to use his 3-point shooting to space the floor and stretch out the Pelicans’ defense. Morris has been in a groove recently, averaging 10.7 points per game over his last three contests. His offensive production ultimately proved to not be enough to offset the defensive struggles from running a five-out lineup. He finished the game with seven points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 17 minutes.

The five-out lineup proved disastrous defensively, but the rest of the Sixers’ big men fared no better against the Pelicans. Nurse surprisingly went with Mo Bamba as the first big man off the bench. Bamba made little impact in preventing the Pelicans from scoring at will inside the paint. Paul Reed checked into the game late in the first quarter and looked slightly better than Bamba. Reed finished the game with nine points, four rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes.

It was immediately clear the Sixers missed Embiid’s defensive presence around the rim. None of the Sixers’ defensive options in this game deterred New Orleans from aggressively attacking the basket. The Pelicans finished the game with 60 points in the paint.

– While Maxey consistently looked to attack against the Pelicans, the same could not be said about Tobias Harris. His lack of aggressiveness was disappointing to see on a night where the Sixers really could have used a strong performance from him. Harris is having a good season, which just makes it more frustrating he does not look to assert himself more in these kinds of situations. In addition to not looking for his own shot enough, he also failed to take care of the basketball. He committed a team-leading five turnovers.

– The Sixers were likely to lose this game once Embiid was ruled out, but the effort level they put forth was inexcusable. There were way too many lazy, careless passes. The Sixers committed a season-high 21 turnovers, and the Pelicans took advantage by scoring 31 points off those turnovers. Their defense was also non-existent for much of the night, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 53.8% from the field. The Pelicans’ shooting percentage would have been higher had it not been for a brief cold stretch in the fourth quarter.

– It is unclear who had a worse game: the Sixers or the referees. For as bad as the Sixers played, the referees arguably looked just as bad. The amount of blown calls that happened was atrocious, headlined by a phantom offensive basket interference call on KJ Martin in the first half. The referees ultimately had no impact on the outcome of the game, but the poor officiating was still brutal to watch.

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