NEW ORLEANS — A must-see battle of bigs turned into a must-read injury list. Joel Embiid was an unexpected late scratch because of back tightness in Sunday’s touted matchup against the Pelicans.
And with that development, the tone of the game changed completely. Instead of Embiid taking on the towering duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the already-shorthanded Sixers scrambled to piece together a competitive squad.
Playing without Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers dropped their fourth straight game, 131-124, Sunday night to the Pelicans.
• Davis and Cousins didn’t do as much damage as what seemed likely without Embiid. Davis posted 29 points and eight rebounds and Cousins tallied 23 points and nine boards, but those totals weren't as monumental given the performances both have had against the Sixers in the past. It was actually former Sixer Jrue Holiday turned out to be the game’s highest scorer (34 points).
• Ben Simmons recorded his 15th double-double and ninth 20-point game (27 points, 10 assists, five rebounds). Rajon Rondo topped the assist duel with 18 dimes along with 13 points.
• The energy in the arena was lackluster in the first half. There was barely a reaction when Tony Allen walked off the court with a knee injury.
• The Sixers trailed 66-55 at the half and got back into the game by outscoring the Pelicans, 40-21, in the third. JJ Redick posted 11 points (a team-high 28 points overall), backed up by bigs Johnson and Booker with eight apiece.
• But how does a 105-all tie turn into a nine-point deficit just-like-that? The Sixers allowed four straight threes, a pair by Holiday and one each from Davis and Cunningham, over a span of just 1:41 in the fourth. The Pelicans remained in control after that.
• Covington was out, as expected, after falling out of bounds and suffering a lower back contusion Saturday in Cleveland. X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is doubtful for the Sixers’ next game against the Timberwolves.
• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started in place of Covington. Luwawu-Cabarrot had a rough shooting night, going 2 for 10 from the field and missing all four of his three-point attempts.
• Brett Brown inserted Luwawu-Cabarrot in the starting lineup instead of going with three guards because the backcourt reserves were already depleted without McConnell, who missed his fifth games out of the last six because of a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Brown needed Jerryd Bayless to be available off the bench, while the Sixers clearly need McConnell’s hustle back on the floor.
• This injury-stricken game was an opportunity for role players to step up. Trevor Booker proved to be reliable again off the bench in his second game (16 points, nine rebounds). Richaun Holmes neared a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
• After going back and forth … and back and forth from the Sixers to the Sevens, Furkan Korkmaz put his time in the G League to use. He clocked 20 minutes for five points and three rebounds, including this jam.
For his first NBA dunk, Furkan throws it in reverse! pic.twitter.com/jUeZfcsDvY— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 11, 2017
• The Sixers shot a solid 27 for 30 from the free throw line but struggled 9 for 29 from three (31 percent). The Pelicans, as noted above, excelled from long range. They scored 45 points off 15 for 24 shooting (62.5 percent).
• Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has heard the comparisons between Simmons and Magic Johnson, and he doesn’t think they’re off base.
“I think Ben is truly going to be one of the great young players in this league,” Gentry said. “When you say he plays like Magic, everybody goes like, 'Ahh,' but he’s out of that mold right there where he does a lot of things.”
• Gentry also got to know Embiid during their trip to Africa in August for Basketball without Borders. He described Embiid as “a character.”
“Just to see him on the court and see him with kids and see some of the things that he can do, it’s very impressive,” Gentry said.
• Familiar faces: Holiday played his first four seasons on the Sixers. Pennsylvania native and St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson signed with the Pelicans for his 14th NBA season. Nelson and his teammates were watching the Eagles game in the locker room earlier.
• Sixers fans were spread out around the arena in team jerseys and T-shirts. One fan hopped on a plane from Philadelphia by himself to catch the game. Another traveled from Pensacola, Florida, noting he’s been a dedicated fan “since the Tony Wroten days.”