New Orleans Pelicans: Grades for close loss vs. Sixers

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, Jaxson Hayes
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

A shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans team fought until the very end, but it wasn’t enough to topple Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers in a 107-109 loss.

The Pelicans looked to be back in with a slight chance at making the play-in tournament after a win against the Golden State Warriors, but those hopes were dashed after the terrible news that broke before the game on Friday: Zion Williamson will be out for the foreseeable future with a fractured left ring finger.

To make things worse, Brandon Ingram is also out of action indefinitely after sustaining a left ankle sprain in that win against the Warriors. At the most crucial time of the season, the Pelicans find themselves without their two most important players. Williamson and Ingram combine for 51 points per game and are the collective axis around which their team spins.

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Ingram and Williamson were joined on the sidelines by Steven Adams (plagued over the last few weeks with a persistent toe injury), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (an ankle injury has kept him out since April 4), and Josh Hart (hasn’t played since April 1 because of a thumb injury).

All of that amounts to the Pelicans being severely understaffed during a period that could determine what the franchise’s future looks like—and in the short term, against one of the best teams in the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers entered and exited Friday night’s contest as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, but they have a staggering amount of riches in their roster and an extremely competent head coach in Doc Rivers.

The Pelicans deserve tons of credit for making this game as close as it was over the entire 48 minutes. New Orleans actually had the upper hand with about a minute to go, but a three from Tobias Harris sentenced the game in Philadelphia’s favor.

Here are the player grades for the Pels’ loss against the 76ers, starting with my personal MVP:

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Philadelphia 76ers: Grading the best player

A-. . Big. New Orleans Pelicans. JAXSON HAYES

For me, this was Jaxson Hayes’ best game of his career.

Hayes was everywhere on both ends of the floor against the Sixers and did not wilt for a single second against two all-time centers like Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard.

The Texas big was a genuine difference-maker. He was blocking shots on defense, protecting the rim with his high level of activity, and then going up the other end of the floor to secure offensive rebounds and finish lobs. Hayes ended his night with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and one steal.

Hayes is only on the second year of his NBA career, but he hasn’t really had a game like this until now. In fact, him balling out like this against one of the NBA’s top teams after not even being in the rotation a few months ago shows that progress is not always linear. Sometimes you need those DNP-CDs to light a fire under you and keep working hard.

Versus the Sixers, Hayes showed all the progress he has made in his sophomore season. On defense, he was disciplined and didn’t go hunting for blocks. He made the right rotations more often than not and set the tone for the Pelicans on that end of the floor.

Offensively, Hayes showed off his floor—an uber-athletic center with great hands that can corral tough passes or complete lobs—as well as his ceiling. When given the chance this season, the Pelicans’ center has shown off some ball skills. Here, he had some success faking handoffs and then driving to the rim, and also took a three.