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Pelicans’ improved paint play and transition game key against 76ers

New Orleans has made great strides in several areas here in the month of January

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

After beating the Pacers 117-113 last night, the Pelicans will wrap up their first back-to-back set in the last three weeks against the 76ers Tuesday evening. However, an argument can be made that this game should probably already be sitting in the books.

If you may recall, New Orleans flew to Philadelphia and was prepared to play the 76ers on December 19. However, that game was postponed by the NBA after the Sixers failed to field eight healthy players due to numerous injuries, COVID-19 protocols and other issues.

Interestingly though, Joel Embiid and Danny Green, who were listed as questionable versus the Pelicans, and Paul Reed and Aaron Henry, who were on G League assignment, were all available the following night in Boston, a game which Philly won.

Thanks to that postponement, one could argue the Sixers weaseled out of a scheduled back-to-back while the Pelicans were allotted two additional ones by the league office.

Why the angst? The Pelicans are 1-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Before this baloney development, the Pelicans had lost to these Sixers to open the regular season, falling 117-97. Furkan Korkmaz blew the doors open in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Pels 14-4 singlehandedly after the margin in the game was just six points.

This time round, the Pelicans will be facing a Sixers team that is playing their best ball of the season. Since Christmas, they’ve won 11 of 14 games. Their offense ranks fourth over this period, and their defense, seventh.

The biggest reason for this success? Joel Embiid. The four-time All-Star is averaging 34.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.4 threes since millions of presents were unwrapped.

That’s more points per game than anyone else in the league, including LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who are on great runs themselves at the moment. Honestly, Embiid should be getting more MVP love.

So how do the Pelicans slow down one of the hottest teams and their man in the middle, while likely without Brandon Ingram because of an ankle sprain? Jonas Valanciunas closely matching Embiid in the box score would help immensely, but there is another item. By doing what’s been working really well of late: manufacturing the easiest of looks yet taking away those same attempts on the other end of the floor.

2nd chance points fastbreak points points in the paint opponent 2nd chance points opponent fastbreak points opponent points in the paint
October-November 14.2 (8) 12.8 (13) 44.8 (17) 11.3 (2) 12.4 (20) 44.8 (12)
December 14.1 (12) 13.3 (11) 45.7 (15) 13.0 (13) 9.0 (3) 48.2 (19)
January 14.2 (9) 17.2 (3) 47.6 (11) 11.3 (5) 10.7 (6) 39.1 (3)

The Pelicans are simply dominating opponents in points in the paint, fastbreak points and 2nd chance points here in January. So despite a lot of anemic 3-point shooting (31.7%) this month, they’ve been able to keep their heads above water and post a 5-6 record because strengths have really become strengths.

On the other side of the coin, the 76ers are one of the poorer teams in preventing opponents to score in transition. They also don’t own the paint like one would expect with Embiid and Andre Drummond taking turns manning the middle.

If the Pelicans maintain their recent style of play, they should have a chance to pull off the upset. And if a little extra motivation is called for, someone needs to say or write inside the locker room that these 76ers are the reason the Pelicans are in the midst of playing three straight back-to-backs. #BulletinBoardMaterial

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (17-28) at Philadelphia Sixers (27-19)

When: January 25, 2022, 6:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass

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.