Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis Highlight Matchup Between Struggling Teams

Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers will take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans as the Sixers look to snap their 8-game losing streak.

The Sixers will take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans tonight as they look to break their eight game losing streak | Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers will take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans tonight as they look to break their eight game losing streak | Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers will look to snap their eight game losing streak — and pick up their first road victory since January 20th, 2016 — tonight when they take on the equally struggling New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans are one of the few teams as equally decimated by injuries as the Sixers have been so far this season, with Tyreke Evans (0 games played), Quincy Pondexter (0 games played), Dante Cunningham (10 games played), and Jrue Holiday (9 games played) all missing significant time so far this season, for various reasons.

Yet the Pelicans still have Anthony Davis, one of the games brightest young stars, with his experience (this is Davis’ 5th year in the league) defying the fact that he is still only 23-years-old. If the Pelicans were having more success as a team Davis would be well on his way to an MVP caliber season, with averages of 31.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, and 2.2 assists per game.

Which big man, Davis or Embiid, will get more help from their depleted and inadequate supporting casts? That very well could determine the winner.

The Details:
What: Sixers (4-18) vs Pelicans (7-15)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Thursday, December 8th at 8 PM Eastern
Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Joel Embiid
Pelicans: Jrue Holiday(?), Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik

(Note: Official starting lineups are released approximately one hour before the game).

Injury Report:
Sixers: Ben Simmons (out, fractured right foot), Nerlens Noel (out, knee), Jerryd Bayless (out, sore wrist), Jahlil Okafor (out, illness).

Pelicans: Dante Cunningham (out, fibula fracture), Tyreke Evans (out, knee), Jrue Holiday (game time decision, turf toe), E’Twaun Moore (uncertain, toe contusion), Quincy Pondexter (out, knee).

Injury notes:
Nerlens Noel traveled with the team on the road trip, and looks like he could return this weekend, with Brown indicating that Sunday’s game against the Detroit Pistons could be a possibility. He will not play tonight, however.

Robert Covington, who suffered a left knee sprain in Friday’s loss to the Orlando Magic, has been cleared to play and is not under a minutes restriction. Covington will start.

About The Opponent:
The 7-15 New Orleans Pelicans have been decimated by injuries, something which has seemingly been true every season of Anthony Davis’ NBA career.

The Pelicans seemed to get a ray of light when Jrue Holiday returned in mid-November, winning their first four games after Holiday’s returns. That success was short-lived, however, and the Pelicans have gone 1-5 in the six games since.

The injuries have placed head coach Alvin Gentry in a tough situation, preventing any sort of continuity from developing with his team. Gentry has already started nine different players so far this year, with nine players averaging over 20 minutes per game, although that includes players like Holiday and Lance Stephenson, both who have appeared in less than half of the Pelicans games.

Still, the Pelicans are an interesting matchup if for no other reason than the always-incredible Anthony Davis. A somewhat forgotten man after appearing in just 61 games last season on an overmatched team, Davis, still shockingly only 23-years-old despite playing in 281 NBA games, is having what is easily the best season of his career, averaging 31.6 points per game (best in the NBA), 11.5 rebounds per game (6th in the NBA), and 2.8 blocks per game (best in the NBA)

For as great of a player as Anthony Davis is, he toils away in relative anonymity because of his subpar roster.

Key Matchup:
It would be great if we could say the key matchup is Anthony Davis against Joel Embiid. Really great. Davis is third in the league in per-minute scoring (29.9 points per 36 minutes), Embiid 4th (28.6). Embiid’s first in the league in blocks per minute (3.8 per 36 minutes), Davis 7th. This is has the potential to be a marquee matchup.

PlayerPts/36 minNBA RankReb/36NBA RankBlocks/36NBA Rank
Joel Embiid28.64th11.821st3.81st
Anthony Davis29.93rd10.933rd2.77th
(Comparing Embiid and Davis' per-minute production through games played on December 7th, 2016. NBA Rank for players who have at least 300 minutes played so far this season)

Except Davis won’t be guarding Embiid, and Embiid won’t be guarding Davis. Much like when Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns were “matched up against each other”, they likely won’t spend much time actually squaring off.

Instead, the key matchup is going to be whoever is defending Davis, which will likely be Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova needs to find a way to slow Davis down even just a little bit (how, I don’t know), while also making enough three-point attempts to pull Davis away from the rim defensively. The Sixers will need a huge game from Ilyasova and Saric in order to have a chance.

Random Stat:
Despite starting two big men (Asik and Davis), the Pelicans are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, pulling down just 17.2 percent of their offensive rebounding chances. Which is good news, since the Sixers are just an average defensive rebounding team.

What To Look For:
Whether or not Jrue Holiday plays could have a major impact on the Sixers chances. Holiday is a good perimeter defender who can limit Sergio Rodriguez on the pick and roll, and could help prevent the Sixers from really getting into their offensive sets. The Pelicans have been a significantly better defensive team when Holiday’s been on the floor (104.4 points per 100 possessions allowed when he’s been on the bench, 96.4 when he’s been on the court).

Holiday’s been scoring well himself as well, averaging 15.4 points per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range, taking a career-high 4.1 three-point attempts per game.

Hoilday is a game time decision.

Update @ 6:44 PM: Jrue Holiday has been ruled out, per Scott Kushner.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.