Despite the hectic Nerlens Noel situation surrounding the 76ers at the moment, there is still basketball to be played, as the Sixers can actually win back-to-back games for the third time this season with a victory against the Pelicans tonight. What can ensure a Sixers win? Looking back at the Sixers’ win against New Orleans on December 8, particularly how Joel Embiid played, might give a better idea of how the Sixers can get the same result tonight.
While it was billed as two transcendent big man prospects matching up with one another head-to-head, fans weren’t treated to seeing Anthony Davis guard Embiid. Davis has only played 13% of his minutes at center this season, per Basketball-Reference. One would assume that not having Davis guard him would be a boost to Embiid’s offense, but he actually struggled this game, pitted against Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca.
Davis’ defensive reputation is a bit overstated, but I’d wager he’s better on that end of the court than Ajinca, who is merely a rotational player. Embiid scored 14 points while just making five of his 15 shots from the field. I’d ultimately chalk that poor performance up as just a random occurrence that’s sure to happen at points in his rookie campaign. I’d expect Embiid to have a night more similar to the one he had on Sunday, where he dominated the Nets to the tune of a 33-point, 10-rebound, three-block performance.
Speaking of blocks, Embiid did actually spend defending Davis two weeks ago. He memorably swatted one of Davis’ shots, as seen below:
Besides the awesomeness of seeing two franchises going toe-to-toe, that “violence at the rim” that Sam Hinkie so often talked about, what stands out most for me is Embiid’s defensive awareness to swat the ball off the backboard as opposed to sending it flying into the third row of the crowd. That’s a Bill Russell-esque move, as the Celtic would famously often end up palming the ball when blocking a shot to preserve position for his team. Embiid doing this allows Gerald Henderson, or whatever Sixer may be in the vicinity in a future scenario, to initiate transition offense.
This was just the 15th game of his career. Simply amazing.
As for what else went the Sixers’ way that evening, Ersan Ilyasova led the team with 23 points (nine-for-16 shooting). Despite the initial burst that Ilyasova brought to Philly offensively, he’s been cooling off lately, as he’s shooting just 32.8 percent from the deep over his last 10 games. It remains to be seen whether Brett Brown will once again deploy a Twin Towers starting frontcourt with Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, but a return to the starting lineup could be beneficial in Ilyasova’s case, rather than being put in a poor position as a small-ball five as he’s been utilized lately.
An Embiid game that has him looking like the runaway Rookie of the Year that he is, as well as continued contributions from glue guys, such as Robert Covington’s ever-active hands defensively, shooting touch on three-pointers from Henderson, and an actual made field goal from Okafor, would all be welcomed against the Pellies.