NEW ORLEANS – A season ago, the Sixers learned how to prevail without Joel Embiid.
But you might be hard-pressed to believe that now after watching how they’ve performed without him this season.
The Sixers suffered a 124-114 loss to the New Orleans Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center with Embiid sidelined by an illness. This comes after they suffered a not-as-close-as-it-looked 13-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 22 at the Target Center.
On Wednesday, the Sixers were also without Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib), Danuel House Jr. (left quad contusion), Jaden Springer (illness), and assistant coach Bobby Jackson (illness). And Nicolas Batum exited the game in the third quarter after re-injuring his left index finger.
Several of the available Sixers and members of the coaching staff were visibly upset with the officiating. A few raised their arms in disgust after calls didn’t go their way. Robert Covington (late third quarter) and coach Nick Nurse (early fourth quarter) received technical fouls for arguing calls.
But the Pelicans took advantage of Embiid’s absence.
Zion Williamson had 33 points on 11-for-11 shooting and making 11 of 12 foul shots. The All-Star power forward also had eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Twelve of his points came in the second quarter.
Jonas Valanciunas benefited from the void left by Embiid in the paint. The 7-foot, 270-pound center scored 10 of his 17 points on first quarter. He made his first seven shots en route to finishing 8-of-9.
As a team, the Pelicans (10-9) shot 53.8%.
Tyrese Maxey finished with a game-high 33 points. De’Anthony Melton added 17 points. Tobias Harris had 12 points and four rebounds. Covington had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Sixers (12-6) were also doomed by 21 turnovers, leading to 31 Pelicans points. The inability to defend and being careless with the ball on a night without the reigning MVP all but guaranteed a lopsided loss.
On Wednesday, the Sixers played three different centers — in the first nine minutes.
Like he did against the Timberwolves, Marcus Morris Sr. got the start as a small-ball center. Mo Bamba, who rarely plays, subbed him out 4 minutes, 40 seconds into the game. Morris re-entered the game to play alongside Bamba as a forward at the 4:23 mark of the quarter. However, Bamba went to the bench 65 seconds later after picking up his second foul. He was replaced by Paul Reed.
Reed stayed in the game until the Sixers went with a small lineup featuring Harris and Batum as the two post players and seldom-used forward KJ Martin.
But by then, the game was all but over.
The Pelicans took a commanding 39-24 first-quarter lead after shooting 77.8%. Their lead extended to 24 points (60-36) with 4 minutes left before intermission. New Orleans built a commanding 29-point cushion in the third quarter.
The Sixers pulled within eight points with 1:47 left after New Orleans lost momentum by taking out their starters too soon.
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