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NBA Preview: Can Anthony Davis, Pelicans capitalize against Embiid-less 76ers?

New Orleans looks to follow up on the most satisfying victory of the season by upending Philly. But can they win with AD for a change?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The spotlight may have shown on the Academy’s best on Sunday night, but on Monday it’ll return to Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans as they host Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on NBATV.

The Pelicans earned their most satisfying victory of the season on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday night by defeating LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, all without Anthony Davis.

And following it, there was dunking. Ooooooh there was dunking!

The Pelicans raced out to a double-digit lead early in the second and never relented, adding to their stable of impressive victories without Anthony Davis in the past weeks (HOU, OKC, LAL).

But Anthony Davis is expected to return to the lineup against a Philadelphia 76ers team desperate to make a playoff run and hopefully retain Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris past this season. So far...boy, so far so good.

The 76ers have won four of their past six, and 15 of 23. Their new super lineup of Simmons - Redick - Butler - Harris - Embiid is +27 per 100 possessions in 73 minutes of action. The Sixers offer more size 1-5 than any team in the NBA, and have added to their depth with James Ennis III, Mike Scott and Jonathon Simmons to go alongside TJ McConnell and Jonah Bolden.

The 76ers do it primarily on the offensive end. While a middling defensive team (14th), offensively, they push the initiative with a top-10 pace, seventh offensive rating and score more points than all but four teams in the NBA (115.7).

Worst of all, their shots find the bottom of the basket more than nearly everyone in the NBA. Third in offensive effective field goal percentage and third in defensive eFG, the 76ers convert on their baskets and challenge their opponents behind head coach Brett Brown.

They move the ball with aplomb (third), sink their threes (seventh), and attack the boards with ferocity (ninth). They also get to the line 28 times per game (second).

However, the Philadelphia 76ers will likely be without their best player and one of the more dominant forces in the league in Joel Embiid. He is the driving force that pilots the 76ers both in spirit and body. First in rebounds (13.5) and fifth in points per game (27.3), Embiid’s absence greatly affected the Sixers in their 130-115 recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

With Boban Marjanovic starting in Embiid’s place, he managed but four points and the Blazers carried a 53-33 rebounding advantage. Simmons put up an impressive 29 points and 10 rebounds to go along with seven assists, but Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds (Layman had 11 more).

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In order for the Pelicans to succeed without Embiid, Anthony Davis will have to give more effort on the defensive end than he has since December. But with the ill-conceived theatrics orchestrated by the Lakers and Klutch agent Rich Paul comes a new burning question, can Anthony Davis make his teammates better, even when he IS fully engaged?

Davis will likely be limited to 20-25 minutes and Holiday isn’t going to play his normal allotment. In his absence, the Pelicans will get a longer look at Cheick Diallo, who has been on fire in his previous two appearances and could look to capitalize on the 76ers depleted frontcourt. Amir Johnson has been rehabbing in the G-League and managed just four minutes when the team needed him most. Mike Scott earned 30 minutes and Diallo along with Jahlil Okafor should be able to outplay him underneath the cylinder.

Close watch will also be paid to Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson as they go toe to toe with veteran counterparts in Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, who in many ways reflect the best versions of what each player can become.

But hey, should the Pelicans lose, they keep their hold on the eighth best odds in the NBA lottery.

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (27-34) at Philadelphia 76ers (38-22)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Monday, February 25, 2019. 7:00 PM CST

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO