Both the 76ers and the Pelicans are riding 3 game win streaks into Wednesday’s match-up at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers are 3-1 since the acquisition by trade of star Jimmy Butler with the first game post-trade being a loss at Orlando. The Process has gotten into a solid groove, with their stiffest competition in the past 10 games being the Pacers, who the Sixers beat 100-94. Since then, the team has only lost in sloppy games while shorthanded when the trade was pending, or immediately after the trade while still trying to figure it all out. Their opponents being on the easier side after a tough stretch to start the season has allowed the team some breathing room to figure out the changes in their lineups: Fultz running the second unit, JJ Redick starting, and most importantly the on-court chemistry between the Big 3. They defeated a slumping Jazz, outlasted Kemba Walker’s 60-point extravaganza, and survived an uncharacteristically lax first half against Phoenix.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, on the other hand, are also on something of a streak, having won 3 straight against the Knicks, Nuggets, and Spurs all at home for New Orleans. While the Nuggets have slumped as of late and the Spurs still seek to sort out their shorthanded offense, those aren’t wins to turn your nose to. Julius Randle had a triple-double against San Antonio, and AD is a near-lock for 30 and 10 night-in and night-out. Pels’ Guard Jrue Holiday, whose FG% is higher in losses this year than in wins, is also averaging close to 20 points per game. And although the Pelicans have found a groove at home, the new-look Sixers on their home court may prove to be troublesome for them.
The Sixers’ team culture has hit a nice level with the early positive signs post-trade for Butler. Former star PG Allen Iverson was at the Suns game, and showed major love to both Embiid and Butler, which made the rounds on social media, and with the home crowds chanting ‘MVP’ for Embiid, as well as ‘Jimmy Butler’ and of course, the modern classic ‘Trust the Process.’ The starters will be feeling it tonight, and Embiid on a wave is never a good sign for an opponent, especially one with mostly inconsistent help to the sole star in AD.
Both Embiid and AD are putting up similar 30 point 10 rebounds with plenty of blocks on a nightly basis, but the similarities in the lineups end there. While both teams are in the top 5 of possessions per game, Alvin Gentry’s Pelicans make it a clear point to push the pace in their games, as there are so few men on the court who can stop AD, and so few men who can score on him. This will be different in tonight’s game, however, as early MVP candidate Joel Embiid was in the top 3 of Defensive Player of the Year voting (along with Davis), and JoJo now has 2 teammates among the best 2-way players at their positions in the league in Simmons and Butler. The question for Philadelphia will be how do fellow starters JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler impact the teams ability to score at a consistent rate and to tow the defensive line. JJ will help with the offense, no doubt. His scoring off of Embiid’s dribble-handoffs are nearly guaranteed 3s or dagger deep 2s. Chandler will help on the defensive side, at 6’9 and 225 lbs, he won’t be a traffic cone out there.
All in all, the Sixers will need a big offensive game from their bench tonight. New Orleans has a habit of pushing games to the 120-140s, where the Sixers prefer a more comfortable 100-115 type of game. If the Pels’ continue to push the pace, it will fall on players like Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and TJ McConnell (in the shoulder-related absence of Markelle Fultz) to keep the offensive energy going even when players like Embiid, Butler, Simmons, and Redick are off the floor.