76ers vs Hornets Preview: Can the 76ers Compete Without Embiid?

The Philadelphia 76ers (0-3) will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets (2-1) tonight without Joel Embiid.

The Philadelphia 76ers (0-3) will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets (2-1) tonight without Joel Embiid. | Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers (0-3) will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets (2-1) tonight without Joel Embiid. | Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers opening night loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, one in which they jumped out to a commanding 16-5 advantage to start the game, led for most of the night, then faltered down the stretch as they watched the Russell Westbrook and the Thunder score the final six points of the game, was disappointing.

Last night’s collapse to the Orlando Magic, a much more winnable game against a much more beatable opponent, was downright disheartening.

In many ways the NBA schedule makers did the 76ers a favor, granting Brett Brown‘s team a reprieve they never knew they would need, and providing them with the chance to make amends against the Charlotte Hornets less than 24 hours later.

The Details:
What: Sixers (0-3) vs Hornets (2-1)
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte
When: Wednesday, November 2nd at 7 PM Eastern
Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes
Hornets: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller

Injury Report:
Ben Simmons (out, fractured right foot), Nerlens Noel (out, knee), Jerryd Bayless (out, left wrist), Joel Embiid (rest).

Roy Hibbert (out, knee).

About The Opponent:
The Charlotte Hornets are coming off a season where they won 48 games and finished with the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, falling to the Miami Heat in game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.

Charlotte lost Al Jefferson to the Indiana Pacers in free agency over the summer, replacing him with Roy Hibbert at the center spot. Hibbert will miss his second straight game tonight with a sore knee, so Cody Zeller will assume a larger role at the center position for the Hornets.

The Hornets have started the season off strong, with wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat to start the season before falling to the Boston Celtics Saturday night for their first loss of the young season.

26-year-old point guard Kemba Walker continues his maturation into the franchise centerpiece. After scoring 20.9 points and dishing out 5.2 assists per game last year, the first 20 point per game scoring season of Walker’s career, Walker is averaging 23.3 points and 5.0 assists through three games for the Hornets this year, shooting 45.0 percent on 6.7 three-point attempts per game in the process. A streaky shooter from three-point range to start his NBA career, Walker is now a legitimate threat from beyond the arc, connecting on 37.5 percent of the 510 attempts over the last year-plus.

Walker is joined by a strong supporting cast of role players, with Nicolas Batum (11 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists) filling the role of secondary playmaker, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks), Frank Kaminsky (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), and Cody Zeller (10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) joining him in double figures.

As a team the Hornets are shooting just 29.9 percent from three-point range, struggling to find much perimeter shooting outside of the electric Walker, although Batum (35.9 percent for his career, just 21.1 percent this year) should turn it around in time. In fact, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.6 percent (ranked 27th in the league), the Hornets initial offense has been a struggle this year.

They’ve overcome their struggles to score by gaining extra possessions. They turn the ball over on just 8.4 percent of their offensive possessions, the best rating in the league. They rebound the heck out of the ball on the defensive side of the court (81.2 percent defensive rebounding rate, 6th best), get to the free throw line a lot (9th best), and don’t send the opponent to the line (3rd fewest). For a team like the Sixers that tends to play mistake-filled basketball due to their youth and inexperience, that could prove problematic.

What To Look For:
With Joel Embiid not traveling with the team because of the back-to-back the 76ers will start Richaun Holmes in his place. Jahlil Okafor has had his minutes restriction relaxed and could now play upwards of 24 minutes in tonight’s game. Okafor hasn’t played more than 16 minutes in a game yet this season as he returns from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The 76ers so far have struggled with Embiid on the bench, with the Sixers going from a poor team (-4.7 points per 100 possessions differential) in the 63 minutes with Embiid on the court to a team that isn’t even remotely competitive (-20.5 points/100 possessions) in the 81 minutes Embiid’s been on the bench. The defense has been where much of this difference has come, with a 108.5 defensive rating without “the crown jewel of the 76ers defense” on the court. As such, they will need strong games from Okafor (8 points, 3.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game) and Richaun Holmes (7.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 18 minutes) to compensate.

The 76ers will also be joined by newcomer Ersan Ilyasova, acquired earlier this week for Jerami Grant. It’s unclear how much the 29-year-old power forward will play, but he should provide the Sixers with another legitimate shooter from deep.

Take care of the ball. Clean up the defensive glass. Keep Kemba Walker in check. It seems like a tall task for the 76ers to accomplish, especially with Embiid out, but it’s what the Sixers need to do in order to make this a winnable game.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.