Slumping Pelicans return to action against 76ers
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The New Orleans Pelicans, retooled and well rested, will attempt to snap out of a slump when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
The Pelicans (28-25) have gone 1-4 since All-Star center/forward DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon tear.
While they made a minor deal at Thursday's trade deadline, sending veteran forward Donte Cunningham to the Brooklyn Nets for guard Rashad Vaughn, they did partially compensate for Cousins' loss by acquiring forward Nikola Mirotic from the Chicago Bulls last Thursday.
The Pelicans lost the first two games after Mirotic joined the team, then saw Wednesday's home game against the Indiana Pacers postponed by a leaky roof within the Smoothie King Center.
"I just think they made an evaluation of the situation and just didn't think it was safe enough to play the game," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told the New Orleans Times Picayune. "I think it's, obviously, better to be safe than sorry. After looking at several things, I think they came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth risking the players."
According to the same outlet, Gentry planned to start DeAndre Liggins at guard in place of Rajon Rondo in that game in order to lessen the defensive burden on Jrue Holiday, who in Cousins' absence is being counted upon for increased offensive output while also guarding an opponent's best perimeter threat.
"What we're asking Jrue to do is really tough," Gentry told the Times Picayune. "Guard the (opposing team's) best player, score 20 a game, so we think that this can give him a little relief. We'll start Liggins on their best perimeter player and try to give Jrue a break down there."
The Sixers (26-25) beat the Washington Wizards 115-102 on Tuesday, their second victory in their last three games. Joel Embiid collected 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Sixers, who shot 54.9 percent from the floor and made half their 28 3-point attempts.
Rookie guard/forward Ben Simmons, who had 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds against the Wizards, is second among all first-year players in scoring (16.6) while leading in rebounds (7.8) and assists (7.2). He learned Thursday, however, that he was not named an All-Star injury replacement for the New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis. Charlotte's Kemba Walker received that honor instead.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, will be playing its second straight game on a five-game homestand Friday.
"Coach talked about that," Dario Saric, who scored 20 points, told NBC Sports Philadelphia. "After we finished with the meeting, he put on the screen, 'Four more, guys.' It's important in that situation.
"Playing four games at home in front of our fans, in front of the crazy energy from the Super Bowl. We need it, we need it. We really need to be focused for the four games and try to win. I think if we win before (the All-Star break), we get better as we go on and be ready for the last part of the season."
Rookie guard Markelle Fultz, the first overall pick in last summer's draft, has missed all but four games this season with a shoulder injury.
Updated February 8, 2018