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Game Thread: Ball, Pelicans must find way to overcome Beast of the East Sixers on their home floor

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New Orleans’ play-in tournament hopes hang in the balance!

New Orleans Pelicans v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Following a couple of days without game action, the New Orleans Pelicans should be raring to go for the stretch run. Six contests remain on the schedule and the Pels are within 1.5 games of the Spurs who are clinging to the final play-in spot in the Western Conference.

Overtaking San Antonio won’t be easy despite their current five-game slide and difficult remaining schedule. Having beaten New Orleans twice in three matchups, the Spurs own the tiebreaker. Moreover, five of New Orleans’ six games left on the docket will take place on the road and the Pelicans have struggled away from SKC — Friday’s contest is going to be a doozy of a challenge.

The first order of business will be handing the 76ers, the top dog in the East, an L in Philadelphia. Although the Pelicans knocked them off 101-94 in New Orleans last month, Philly owns the second-best home record (25-7) in the entire league. In addition, they’ve found their stride before the playoffs, having won six straight.

With Brandon Ingram already out with a left ankle sprain, the biggest key to sweeping the season series might be the health of Steven Adams’ toe. The Pelicans starting center limited Joel Embiid, one of the contenders for the 2021 MVP Award, to 14 points on 5-16 shooting. Adams is currently listed as doubtful on the injury report with a right first MTP sprain.

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

If Adams can’t go, Willy Hernangomez and Jaxson Hayes will split responsibilities on one of their biggest tasks of the season; however, Philly’s entire starting lineup can be problematic. Ben Simmons can’t be given driving lanes or plenty of transition opportunities, and Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green can’t be allowed to find shooting rhythms.

A couple of potential boosts for New Orleans: Nickeil Alexander-Walker was upgraded yesterday to questionable after spraining his left ankle and Didi Louzada received his work visa. Both players went through practice yesterday although NAW sat out the contact portions.

In all likelihood, the Pelicans will heavily rely on Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball. The 20-year-old superstar has been as consistent as they come, but the same cannot be said for New Orleans starting point guard. Ball’s production has often wavered and there isn’t a clearer example of this than the last three games:

  • 5/1 win over Timberwolves: 33 points, eight 3s, 47.6 FG%, 47.1 3PT%
  • 5/3 loss to Warriors: seven points, one 3, 16.7 FG%, 11.1 3PT%
  • 5/4 win over Warriors: 33 points, seven 3s, 47.8 FG%, 53.8 3PT%

If Zion and Lonzo show out offensively and the Pelicans can muster a good defensive effort, New Orleans could manage a surprising and much-needed victory.

UPDATE: The Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson (fractured left ring finger), Brandon Ingram (left ankle inversion sprain), Steven Adams, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson underwent a series of diagnostic testing at Ochsner Health yesterday prior to the team’s departure to Philadelphia. A CT scan revealed a fractured left ring finger. He will be sidelined indefinitely. A treatment plan and timetable for his return to play will be determined upon further evaluation.

Ugh.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) at Philadelphia 76ers (45-21)

When: May 7, 6:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.