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Two of the most physically imposing and explosive big men in the NBA will square off for the first time in their careers as Zion Williamson and the Pelicans host Joel Embiid’s 76ers. Due to injuries and the pandemic, their paths haven’t crossed.

Williamson was unavailable the only time the teams met during his rookie season, back on Dec. 13, 2019. He was still strengthening his knee. Embiid’s team won 116-109, led by 24 points from the All-Star center, 24 more from Ben Simmons, and 31 from Tobias Harris. All of those guys are still present for Philadelphia, which arrives in the “Big Easy” ranked second in the East, just a half-game behind Brooklyn in both the conference and Atlantic Division. Continuity counts.

New Orleans was led by Brandon Ingram’s 32 points in that game. He’s one of only three players who participated in that contest less than 16 months ago who remains available to participate on Friday night. Guard Lonzo Ball and center Jaxson Hayes came off the bench. Even both coaches, Philly’s Doc Rivers and the Pels’ Stan Van Gundy, had other gigs when their teams last met. 76ers at Pelicans picks and predictions will fixate on whether Ingram and Ball will be able to participate since both enter the day listed as questionable. We’ll finally get Williamson vs. Embiid, but it remains to be seen whether a competitive game will materialize in their first meeting.

  • New Orleans Pelicans vs. Philadelphia 76ers
  • Time/Venue: 8:10 p.m. ET, Smoothie King Center
  • TV: Bally’s Sports New Orleans

Embiid’s Return has 76ers Seeking Surge

The 76ers are presumed to be much further along 51 games in under Rivers than they were with Brett Brown at the helm, but the fact is the difference is only four wins. It can be argued that the combination of Embiid, Simmons, and Harris leading the way has been more productive due to cohesion, as they’ve been playing together since February of ’19.

Rivers will write the story of his success or failure in his first season with Philadelphia based on what transpires over the next few months. The 76ers have failed to reach a conference finals with Embiid and Simmons leading the way, winning only a pair of first-round series. They were eliminated in the first round in the bubble 4-0 by the rival Celtics. This group has a lot to prove, even with a new voice leading them.

Embiid is back following a 10-game absence due to a knee bruise. He was injured on March 12 but looks back to his old self, playing in victories over Minnesota and Boston since returning on April 3, averaging 29.5 points and seven rebounds. He sat on April 4 in a 116-100 upset loss to the Grizzlies last Sunday and his Sixers were blitzed without him.

With only one back-to-back remaining between now and April 21-22, Embiid will hopefully be in the mix for every game except Saturday’s matchup with an Oklahoma City team that has dropped five straight games. The first game and the last one on this current four-game road trip are the ones the Sixers have circled. The first came against the Celtics and produced a 106-96 win. The finale, scheduled for Monday night, features the season’s only visit to Dallas for a date with Luka Doncic’s Mavs.

The 76ers will then return home to face the Nets, Clippers, Warriors, and Suns, so these next few weeks will be key in identifying just how ready for the postseason they are. Philadelphia went 7-3 before Embiid’s return from March 14-April 1. The ‘under’ is 9-4 over the team’s last 13 games, but just 1-1 since Embiid’s return. Harris, Simmons, and shooter Seth Curry were utilized as Philadelphia’s primary scorers while Embiid was on the mend. Dwight Howard continued to come off the bench but attempted to fill his shoes in protecting the paint and rebounding.

Ailing Pelicans Not Responding On Defense

Williamson missed three games with a thumb injury but returned on Tuesday and played both ends of a back-to-back against the Hawks and Nets, losing 123-107 and 139-111 respectively. He’s averaged 25 points but has seen his rebounds and assists slip significantly.

Ingram hasn’t been a part of the blowout losses and hasn’t played in any of his team’s five games this month, last suiting up March 29. He’s dealing with a toe issue that may be closer to a return to action. The Pelicans have missed his playmaking and can use his length along the perimeter.

Although Steven Adams has largely been present and is considered a top-notch rim protector, he’s been unable to keep New Orleans from surrendering at least 115 points in each of its April games. Not surprisingly, the ‘over’ is 4-1 in those contests.

76ers at Pelicans picks and predictions will also weigh whether Ball can suit up, since he’s being listed as questionable with a hip issue. The Pels could really use his defense and ball-handling skills, not to mention the perimeter threat he represents since he shot 8-for-15 from 3-point range in New Orleans’ only win this month, a 122-115 victory at the Rockets last Sunday.

Although the Pels are home for this one, they’ll hit the road again for a Sunday night game at Cleveland before returning to face Sacramento and New York to open next week. With only one back-to-back between now and April 28-29, Van Gundy’s team will have an opportunity to make a run if they can get healthy. They’ll need to start picking up their defense but remain within reach of the play-in round of the postseason, opening Friday’s action two games behind 10th-seeded Golden State.

Sports Betting Line Analysis

The 76ers are favored by 7.5 points at BetRivers and opened at that number at FanDuel and DraftKings as well. William Hill books, the Westgate SuperBook and BetMGM all have taken the wait-and-see approach as of Friday morning, not releasing a line. FanDuel has seen the line bet down to 7. The total is expected to be in the 224.5-225.5 range but may increase if Ingram is cleared.

Injuries/Rotational Adjustments to Watch

If Ingram and Ball can play, they’ll join Williamson, Adams and Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup. Sixth man Josh Hart is out indefinitely with a UCL tear and is expected to miss significant time. Promising second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been ruled out due to a left ankle sprain and rookie point guard Kira Lewis has missed the last three games with a calf strain and is listed as questionable. Former All-Star Isaiah Thomas was signed to a 10-day contract and is seeing minutes off the New Orleans bench. Hayes is also questionable due to an ankle sprain.

The 76ers are relatively healthy, missing only trade acquisition George Hill, who they envisioned as a rotational piece in the backcourt when they acquired him at the trade deadline. He may return from a thumb sprain next week.

76ers at Pelicans Handicapping Notes and Pick

You may want to wait until after shootaround to see if there are any developments regarding Ingram, Ball, and Hayes, but getting in at 7 points may prove important in its own right. Given the much healthier group and recent form with Embiid back, riding Philadelphia and laying the points on the road looks like the way to go.

Pick: 76ERS

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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