Steven Adams grabs a rebound at Brooklyn

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: 76ers at Pelicans (4/9/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Friday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Philadelphia and New Orleans (7 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

1, 3: New Orleans and Philadelphia rank in team rebounding percentage this season, respectively, among the league’s 30 teams. The Pelicans have grabbed 52.9 percent of all available rebounds in 2020-21, the NBA’s best rate, while the 76ers are third at 52.1 (second-place Utah is sandwiched in between at 52.8). New Orleans being an elite rebounding club while sporting a below-.500 record is an anomaly in the standings, because among the top 15 squads, only the Pelicans (22-29), Chicago (22-28) and New York (25-27) have losing marks. On the other end of the scale, the NBA’s seven worst rebounding teams all have losing records, with Portland (30-21) being the only bottom-10 rebounder to still be over .500 and in excellent position to reach next month’s postseason. Part of the success of the Pelicans and 76ers on the backboards comes from relying on centers who are comfortable playing in the paint and around the basket. Steven Adams leads New Orleans in rebounding average (8.9), while Joel Embiid (11.2) and Dwight Howard (8.3) top Philadelphia in the category.

7-5, 9-7: New Orleans record this season against the eight teams currently in NBA play-in position and its record vs. teams currently outside the top 10 in the conference standings, respectively. In other words, the Pelicans actually have a slightly better winning percentage against the clubs now in seventh through 10th place in the conference standings (Boston, New York, Indiana, Chicago, Dallas, Memphis, San Antonio, Golden State) than they do vs. teams that would be eliminated if the season ended today (Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Orlando, Detroit, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Houston, Minnesota). Of course, Friday’s opponent, Philadelphia, does not belong to either group. The Pelicans are just 6-17 against the dozen teams currently sitting in the top six places of the NBA’s two conferences, but they have one win apiece against Utah, Phoenix, the Clippers, Denver, the Lakers and Milwaukee. New Orleans is just 1-7 against the East’s top six teams and has four such matchups scheduled between tonight and a May 9 visit to the City of Brotherly Love.

28.6: Minutes per game in April for Pelicans forward James Johnson, his most playing time in any month since April 2017, when he logged 34.8 over six contests for Miami. The Heat narrowly missed the playoffs that season despite a 41-41 record, finishing the campaign 30-11 after starting 11-30. For Johnson to make the fifth trip of his NBA career to the postseason (he previously did so with Chicago in 2010, Memphis in 2014, then Toronto in 2015 and 2016), New Orleans will need to immediately improve upon a 9-12 record against the East this season. Seven of the next eight Pelicans games are interconference matchups (Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York twice, Washington, Brooklyn, Orlando).

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

PHILADELPHIA (35-16, 2ND IN EAST)

Tuesday win at Boston

Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

Notes: This group is 18-3, for a winning percentage of 85.7. Its last defeat came Feb. 21 at Toronto. … Philadelphia is 26-7 when Embiid plays, but 9-9 when he does not. The 76ers produced an impressive March stretch of 6-1 sans Embiid, but are 1-3 since then when the center is sidelined. … Philadelphia is  half of a game behind first-place Brooklyn (36-16). The Nets host the Lakers on Saturday, while the 76ers have a back-to-back Saturday in Oklahoma City.

NEW ORLEANS (22-29, 11TH IN WEST)

Wednesday loss at Brooklyn

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, James Johnson, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 0-2. Johnson has played very well since coming to the Crescent City at the trade deadline, but New Orleans is 1-4 in his five starts, playing without Brandon Ingram for that entire stretch. Ingram, who is questionable to play Friday, had not missed any of the team’s first 46 games. … New Orleans is two games behind No. 10 Golden State (24-27) for the West’s final play-in spot. The Warriors host Washington tonight at 9. Ninth-place San Antonio (24-25), which has a three-game lead on New Orleans, visits Denver at 8.

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

PROTECT THE PAINT

Embiid has not played in enough games to officially qualify for league statistical leaders, but his scoring average of 29.9 is second in the NBA this season, behind only Washington’s Bradley Beal (31.2). The bona fide MVP candidate does a ton of damage around the rim, throwing down 27 dunks in his 33 games played this season. He’s shooting 73 percent on attempts from 0-3 feet, according to Basketball Reference.

GUARD THE ARC

Back-to-back road losses in which Atlanta and Brooklyn were red-hot from deep dropped New Orleans’ perimeter defense to last in the league in three-pointers allowed per game (15.2) this season. It’s an obvious area of concern for the Pelicans. Philadelphia is above average in three-point shooting (36.8, ranking No. 13), but doesn’t take a ton of them, hitting 10.9 a night, which is 27th.

BACKCOURT BOUNCEBACK

New Orleans is very thin numbers-wise at guard right now, with only Ball, Bledsoe and 10-day signee Isaiah Thomas playing Wednesday (Ball and Kira Lewis Jr. are both questionable to play Friday). That trio played decently overall at Brooklyn, but had a rough shooting night, going a combined 4/18 on three-pointers. As a team, the Pelicans were 6/27. New Orleans is 5-12 this season when it makes single-digit treys.

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