Rounding into form, Joel Embiid leads Sixers vs. Pelicans


Joel Embiid says he’s not all the way back.

His coach says he’s easing the Philadelphia 76ers star back into action.

But where Embiid is at right now is still really good.

Embiid will play his third game since returning from a 10-game absence due to a bruised bone in his knee when the Sixers visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

“I’m not all the way there,” Embiid said after scoring 35 points in a 106-96 victory at Boston on Tuesday night, but he called the outing “a big step.”

Embiid had 24 points and eight rebounds in his return for a victory over Minnesota on Saturday before sitting out a loss to Memphis on Sunday. He played 33 minutes against the Celtics and made 16-of-20 free throws, attempting two more than Boston did.

“When you get a player like Joel back and you throw him into your offense, it’s actually going to create some short-time rhythm problems,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “We have to try to win games still and get his rhythm back at the same time.”

The Sixers have won three of their last four after starting a four-game trip at Boston. They led Boston by as many as 21 points in the second half.

Embiid said he felt his defensive play was much better against the Celtics after he criticized his own play in his first game back.

“I am usually critical about myself, but I thought I was great,” Embiid said of his defense against Boston.

Rivers said the Sixers defense overall was the key.

“Overall, we locked in and guarded,” he said. “We had a great individual defensive performance by a lot of guys.”

The Pelicans’ defense was poor in back-to-back losses at Atlanta (123-107) on Tuesday and at Brooklyn (139-111) on Wednesday.

The Hawks made 11 of their 20 3-pointers in the third quarter, and Kevin Durant played for the first time in nearly two months and didn’t miss a shot while scoring 17 points and joining six Nets teammates in double figures.

“It’s been rough,” said Jaxson Hayes, who had 11 points against Brooklyn. “Guys on the other team have been shooting the ball really well. We just have to be better on defense.”

The Pelicans are missing four injured players, including second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram (foot). Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. (calf) are day-to-day, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker (ankle) and Josh Hart (thumb) will miss multiple weeks.

New Orleans has lost four of its last five games after winning four of the five before that.

“I don’t like what we’ve done the last two games,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But it’s not the same team as the one where we thought we were making progress. … You’re judging apples and oranges, really. That doesn’t mean I’m giving us a pass.”

Zion Williamson had 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting against the Nets, ending his streak of 25 consecutive games with 20-plus points on 50 percent or better shooting, which tied Shaquille O’Neal’s record.

Van Gundy said the Pelicans “got totally dominated at both ends of the floor” and called their defense against the Nets “absurd.”

–Field Level Media

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