BOSTON – Following the Celtics' 110-106 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, there was plenty of praise being passed around for Sixers big man Joel Embiid.
And with limited minutes, the 7-footer nearly led Philly to the upset.
Well, just imagine all the praise for Embiid’s game on a similar-framed NBA body, with as much God-given ability, similar skillset, wiser and the centerpiece for a team that’s better than the Sixers.
It sounds a lot like Anthony Davis, who will lead the New Orleans Pelicans into the TD Garden tonight for a matchup that will once again test the Celtics’ ability to handle their own against an elite big man.
“That’s going to be another tough one for us,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier told CSNNE.com following Friday night’s win. “They are sort of like the Sixers; a team that’s playing a lot better than their record is.”
The season began with injuries, a common issue for the Pelicans the past couple of years. The Pelicans began the season losing their first eight games but since then have played nearly .500 (14-15) basketball.
They come into tonight’s game having lost two in a row after winning the previous four. And their success of late has been in large part because of a small-ball lineup that has been surprisingly more effective than anyone outside of the New Orleans’ franchise might anticipate.
Along with Davis, New Orleans starts 6-foot-4 guards Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield in the backcourt, along with Dante Cunningham and Solomon Hill who are 6-7 and 6-8, respectively, up front with Davis.
“Our small lineup is good for us,” Davis told reporters this morning. “We like it. We just have to continue to move the basketball.”
Whatever the plan is for moving the ball, more often than not it will land back in the hands of Anthony Davis.
Despite the struggles New Orleans (14-23) has had this season, it’s certainly not because of anything Davis isn’t doing.
He’s averaging career-highs in scoring (28.6 points) and rebounds (12.1) rebounds, areas in which Davis ranks among the league’s leaders in those respective categories.
And while he has shown the ability to stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting, Davis is perfectly content to do damage a little bit closer to rim at a time when the league’s premier big men all seem to be trying to become more perimeter scorers.
“I’m just developing my game each and every day,” Davis said. “I don’t really care what other guys are doing. I’m focused on what I can do to help this team. If that’s [what] coach wants, I’ve shown it, I’ve done it all year. But I don’t rely on that. I rely on what I’m comfortable with and what I’m most efficient with; the mid-range and post moves.”
But beyond the statistical improvements, Davis is more locked on what the Pelicans have to do in order to get back on a long winning streak like they did recently when they won four in a row.
“It was good for us. But now we can’t slide back down,” Davis said. “We have to make sure we stay on this little streak and continue to play together. During that whole time, all we did was play together, play for each other and we need to continue to do so.”
That will be easier said than done, especially with the Celtics having Al Horford and Jae Crowder back for this game.
“They’re a very good team,” Davis said. “A team that likes to get after it, a team that can score. We have to continue moving the ball and do what we do.”