The Sixers have had a brutal week. After picking up what was easily their best win of the 2021-22 campaign against the Warriors last Saturday, the Sixers proceeded to turn in three useless efforts.
They lost by 35 points to a Ja Morant-less Grizzlies team; lost to the Heat with no Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro; and then lost to a Nets team with most of its rotation missing. Apart from some bright spells of play from Tyrese Maxey, Joel Embiid and Seth Curry, with the latter two stepping up their scoring in an attempted comeback against Brooklyn, it was mostly a horrible week for the Sixers.
Well, on Sunday, the Sixers should have a good chance to bounce back and pick up a much-needed win. They’re back at home to face the 10-21 New Orleans Pelicans, who currently rank just 14th in the Western Conference.
Daulton Hommes (right fibular stress fracture), Kira Lewis Jr. (torn ACL and Grade 2 MCL sprain), Didi Louzada (suspension), and Zion Williamson (right foot fracture) are all listed as out for the Pelicans. This week we received another update on Williamson, who has now received a biologic injection to stimulate bone healing in his foot. He’ll be re-evaluated in four to six weeks when another round of imaging on his foot takes place.
For the Sixers, Furkan Korkmaz (non-COVID illness), Georges Niang (health and safety protocols) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) are out. Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness) and Tyrese Maxey (left quad contusion) are both listed as questionable.
The Pelicans are actually coming off two straight wins, although beating the 9-19 Thunder and the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis hardly puts them in scary form. For the season, New Orleans still ranks just 26th in offensive rating (even after a recent uptick in this area) and 25th in defensive rating, with a -5.3 net rating to show for it. Without Zion, there just isn’t too much depth or scoring punch after Brandon Ingram (who has his flaws as a creator with a heavy reliance on mid-range jumpers and limited playmaking), Devonte’ Graham’s shooting (his inefficiency inside the arc and major lack of rim pressure hurt his overall scoring impact) and Jonas Valanciunas. And apart from rookie Herb Jones, who’s impressed defensively against numerous tough assignments this year, there’s little promise at the other end of the floor either.
For the Sixers’ defense on Sunday night, containing Ingram will be the main task. Matisse Thybulle has defended Ingram well before and gave him some trouble in their first matchup this season, as he racked up four steals and slowed down Ingram’s play off the dribble and mid-range heavy attack (Ingram only shot 12-of-26 from the floor that game). Meanwhile, if he’s ready to play, Maxey will need to help handle Graham and cover him closely around ball screens and provide rear contests at the perimeter — Graham is confident gunning from range off the bounce and is taking 66.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season.
Possibly the most interesting matchup of the game would be seeing Embiid go against Valanciunas, a bruising physical center who’s been a bright spot for New Orleans this year. Valanciunas is averaging a career-high 18.9 points per game to go along with 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists, providing his typically strong interior scoring with a touch more confidence from three-point range. While he has the strength and rebounding to clash with Embiid in the paint, Embiid should still be able to find success and utilize the speed advantage he has. He also played excellent defense to bother the Pelicans’ center in their season opener matchup — Valanciunas missed some decent looks, but struggled to finish inside against Embiid and shot just 3-of-19 for the game.
Plus, if the Sixers are going to get back on track, facing one of the league’s worst interior defenses should be a good place to start. New Orleans is allowing the fourth-highest shooting percentage in the restricted area at 67.3 percent and the highest percentage in the paint (46.1) outside of the restricted area. If Maxey and Embiid are able to play, they should be well suited to attack the paint and capitalize against the Pelicans’ limited guard defense and rim protection. Ideally Tobias Harris will be able to get going downhill as well. After an ugly 3-of-17 shooting performance against the Nets, he needs to turn things around.
For the sake of the team itself and for the sanity of fans, the Sixers could really use a win on Sunday.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. New Orleans Pelicans
When: 7:00 pm ET, December 19, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic