By Michael Donovan
The Sixers are halfway through their Joel Embiid-less period, and they are struggling.
They will again be without Embiid on tonight when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans, who might have Abthony Davis back in the lineup.
Embiid missed the second of what is expected to be at least three consecutive games to rest left knee soreness as Philly lost to visiting Portland 130-115 on Saturday.
The Sixers missed Embiid on both ends of the floor, but his absence was especially noticeable on defense.
“We made some shots, we missed some shots,” Sixers guard Jimmy Butler told Philly.com. “I don’t think offense was a problem. We scored 115. On any given night, that’s enough to win.”
They also struggled on the boards without Embiid; Portland had a 53-33 rebounding edge that included 19 offensive rebounds.
“We just didn’t rebound well enough against a team like this,” guard Ben Simmons said. “It’s a group effort rebounding. I think just all of us combined, I don’t think we did enough. …
“Obviously, once you have Joel out here you slow the game down a little bit and feed him the ball, you let him do his thing. But it’s obviously different playing without him and trying to find a flow.”
The Pelicans didn’t have any trouble finding a flow without Davis against the Lakers. They had their highest-scoring first quarter of the season in racing to a 42-35 lead.
Seven New Orleans players scored in double figures. Jrue Holiday scored 27 points while achieving two milestones — his 10,000th career point and his 6,000th as a Pelican. Julius Randle had 24 points. Cheick Diallo had 18 points and 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double. Ian Clark scored 17. Kenrich Williams had 11, and Jahlil Okafor, who started in Davis’ place, added 10.
“I think you can take all the guys that were involved in the game and at some stage they did something that was really positive for us,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Okafor, Diallo and Williams are young players who received extra playing time, not only because of Davis’ absence, but because of injuries to E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller.
Even with Okafor and Williams thrust into the starting lineup because of the absences of Davis and Moore, the New Orleans bench outscored the Los Angeles bench 42-24.
“Obviously the young guys understand they are trying to establish themselves in the league,” Gentry said. “These guys understand that the most important thing is our team. They try to do everything they can to help our team.”
The Pelicans’ official reason for sitting Davis was “rest” even though he had played just 19-plus minutes a night earlier in a loss at Indiana, New Orleans’ first game after the week-long All-Star break.
But the Pelicans have been reducing Davis’ role ever since he returned from a finger injury in the wake of a trade request he issued late last month.