Sixers vs Pelicans: Best bets, game preview & more

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, and James Harden watch a free-throw attempt during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Sixers are heading to New Orleans to take on the Western Conference-leading New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, hoping to get back on the winning track after a tough loss against the Washington Wizards. The loss stopped an eight-game win streak that the Sixers were riding, having last lost to the Houston Rockets all the way back on December 5th.

Sixers vs Pelicans game info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (20-13) @ New Orleans Pelicans (22-12)

When: Friday, December 30th – 8:30 PM EST

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

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All eyes on Zion

In order to get back in the win column, the Sixers are going to have to get through a very tough Pelicans team that has Zion Williamson operating as everyone thought he would coming into the league. The Pelicans are on their own current four-game win streak and Williamson has been an absolute terror to opposing teams. He missed a few games with a right foot injury then returned to drop 43 points on the Timberwolves in a dramatic 119-118 victory on Wednesday. When Williamson is healthy he has shown that he can be virtually unstoppable.

The Sixers will need a big showing on the defensive side of the ball to contain not only Williamson, but C.J. McCollum, and Jonas Valanciunas. The trio is currently averaging close to 60 points per game. The Pelicans will be without Brandon Ingram, their second-leading scorer, and Herbert Jones, so the Sixers very well could sneak a victory here.

Tyrese Maxey returning to the Sixers

For the Sixers, there’s a strong possibility that guard Tyrese Maxey returns to play tonight. While it was reported that Maxey would probably be on a minutes restriction when returning, we save Head Coach Doc Rivers run guard James Harden out there for 38 minutes in his first game back after missing a month.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Maxey out there playing extended minutes. If Maxey doesn’t play, the Sixers are still featuring the red hot Joel Embiid, currently the leading scorer in the NBA, and James Harden who’s leading the league in assists and putting in 22 points per game himself. That combo, alone, is a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams.

The need for physicality

The Sixers’ big problem is getting production and a good rotation from its bench players and that all falls on Doc Rivers. Reports are that PJ Tucker had a procedure done on his knee about six weeks ago, then had a sprained ankle, and is currently battling a nerve injury in his hand. For a 37-year-old forward, the minutes have been too much for him.

While he was brought in partially for his toughness, he has also been a pretty good shooter from the outside as well as very good from in the paint. Tucker isn’t lighting up scoreboards but the idea was to have him help the Sixers as the playoffs came around. So far this year Tucker has been the only player to appear in all 33 games.

Against the Pelicans, the game figures to be a physical one and this is what Tucker was brought in for. Except, he can’t be effective if he’s injured and still playing 28+ minutes per game. Doc Rivers has to find ways to keep his players fresh so that they can dominate in the games where they really need to.

As we’ve seen, all too often over the start of the season there’s no consistency to the rotation, and few adjustments are being made in-game by the coach. It’s become an all too familiar scene on the court, despite what their recent eight-game winning streak would lead you to believe. Do they need to be one of the top two seeds in the playoffs? Not really, but they need to be healthy when they get there.

Game prediction

With the return of their young star, Maxey, the Sixers will have the full use of their roster for the first time in a long time, and having players like De’Anthony Melton and Shake Milton, who’ve stepped up in his absence can only help the team. What remains to be seen is if Rivers will continue to use them, rotate correctly, and try to give his players a healthy chance for the remainder of the season.

The Sixers should be able to beat the short-handed Pelicans but it’s not a given and it’s not going to be easy. Hopefully, they’ll be able to steal this game from the Pelicans and slow down Williamson.

Prediction: Sixers 111 – Pelicans 107

AP Photo/Matt Slocum